In one of my earlier posts, The Write way to get Published in Lit Mags, I discuss the proper way to go about submitting your work for publication, and in this post, I’d like to discuss Step Six a little further: rejection.
Rejection sucks. There’s no two ways about it, but it you want to be a writer, you’re going to be rejected. According to The Write Life (hey, they like puns too!), the chances of getting your story published by the New Yorker is 0.0000416 percent. You have a better chance of being struck by lightening sometime in your life than being published by the New Yorker.
But maybe you’re just starting out and you haven’t set your goals as high as the New Yorker yet. Your chances of getting published in lesser known magazines are slightly better, but not by much.
When I have a piece that I feel is publish-ready, I don’t submit it to just one magazine, but a whole slew of them thus increasing my chances of publication with every mag I submit to. As a result, I have a whole folder in my email dedicated solely to rejection letters. However, I’ve found that not everyone is like me when it comes to submitting their work. To a lot of people, writing is something sensitive, fragile, and it’s almost like they are afraid that should their work be rejected, they will lose the ability to write completely. So they don’t try. The fear completely cripples them and they may go their whole lives never trying to submit to even one magazine, let alone a whole bunch of them. This post is for people like that.
I figured the easiest way to to ease the fear of rejection, is to share three real life examples of what it looks like because really, when you get up close to it, it’s not all that scary.
The first example of rejection is the most common:
Thank you for entering our 2014 Annual Nonfiction Contest. We thank you for the opportunity to review your submission. Unfortunately, your essay was not selected as a finalist in our contest, and we regret that it does not meet our present needs. We wish you the best of luck placing your work elsewhere.
That is an actual letter copied and pasted from my email from Phoebe magazine.
I can understand how this may seem painful at first, I mean, they haven’t even bothered to use my name. I have been degraded to “Contributor,” while the name of my piece or anything even indicating that they read it is not present. The first time you get a rejection like this, it will sting. There’s no denying it. But eventually, the more you submit, the more accustomed to it you will become. Eventually you’ll be able to understand that editors are busy people and that writing individual responses to each and every piece is a tedious task. The more rejections like this you recieve, the more you’ll appreciate rejections that are a little more personalised and clever, even if they still seem like they are copied and pasted to every person whose piece they reject with nothing more than a name change and a reference to the title of your story. This is the second typeof rejection you might recieve.
Here’s a rejection letter I recieved from the Ampersand Review:
Thank you for sending us “Clocks”. We appreciate the chance to read it. Now, don’t take this the wrong way, but we’re going to have to turn your piece away into the cold. Sometimes we’ve already got a similar piece, sometimes we’ve seen a few too many like it lately, and sometimes we’re just in a bad mood and feel better taking it out on you.
Thanks again. Best of luck with this.
I love the quick wit and brash honesty of this one and it makes me want to try again with this magazine.
The third and best kind of rejections you can ever get are from those editors who actually take the time to let you know their thoughts about your piece. These kinds of rejections still hurt (sometimes a lot), and maybe it will take you a few days to come back to it after the initial wound, but when you do, you’ll likely find some great advice about how to improve your piece from someone who works in “the biz” and knows what they’re talking about. It will help you immensely before you submit it again elsewhere and (hopefully) encourage you to keep writing.
One of the first rejections I ever got was one of this type from Calyx:
Thank you for your submission to CALYX, and also for your patience during the break between discussions for Vol. 28:1 and 28:2. “Contagious” was among the small group of submissions held for final consideration by our editorial collective for the next issue and it was a pleasure to have the chance to share it.
While we enjoyed reading and discussing your writing, we ultimately decided that your submission doesn’t fit our current needs. The language and interplay between Innocence and Illness was dark and primal, but sometimes at the cost of clarity and direction.
We appreciate the hard work and style that goes into your work and would like to encourage you to continue submitting to CALYX in the future.
The Editors of CALYX Journal
How freaking awesome is that?! My story made it to the last round, almost got published, and they want me to submit more to them. If that’s not encouraging, I don’t know what is.
There is a fourth type of rejection letter which you may recieve, but I’m not going to share any because, well, they’re embarassing. These types of rejections occur when you haven’t done your homework. Editors can usually tell when you haven’t checked them out and read back issues of the magazines to see if your story actually fits their style. This kind of letter comes with a few passive aggressive lines, suggesting that you actually take the time to read the magazine you want to get published in. This kind of rejection is your own damn fault and if it hurts your feelings, well, then you deserve it. I have been guilty of this more than once. It takes a lot of time to find the right magazine that’s a fit for you, and in a exasperated haze of laziness, I have sometimes blindly thrown my work at places it had no right to be thrown. I suggest avoiding this and the embarassment that comes with it.
That’s it! Those are all of the ways your work can be rejected, and when it comes down to it, it’s really not that bad. The worst that can happen is a generic dismissal and even if you do get the first type of rejection, hey, at least you tried. Plus, there is always the chance that you will get accepted! The easiest way to fail is to not try, and if you want to be a writer, I heartily encourage you to take the risk.
If this article was useful to you and prodded you to try submitting your stories somewhere, I’d love to hear your rejection (or acceptance!) letters when you get them a few months down the road.