Last June (so a little over a year now) I really got back in the game of writing and submitting short stories to lit mags. And as the months passed on, the rejection letters came rolling in. Okay, let’s me series. Rejection emails.
This might be a familiar story to you. Or perhaps you’re just starting into the world of submitting short stories (or poems, or creative nonfiction pieces) to literary magazine, literary journals, and contexts. If you are just starting out, let me give you a heads up.
You are going to get a lot of rejections.
What you shouldn’t do? Take it personally. Or let them make you give up on your writing.
You will got a lot of rejections. They are not a judgement of your character or your writing ability. They are not a sign you shouldn’t be writing. They are not a sign that editors of whatever magazine are idiots who you need to swear a vendetta against.
A rejection is a rejection. It means you story does not belong in whatever magazine you submitted it to for one, or more, of a variety of reasons.
Form Rejection Letters
Most rejection letters do not tell you why your story (or poem, or essay, or whatever) was not accepted. That because most rejection letters are not written individually for each story. They are form rejection letters and they are sent out to all of us rejects with only our names and the story titles filled in.
The anatomy of most form rejection letters are three parts. (1) A thank you for submitting the story to their magazine. (2) The rejection, usually worded as ‘not the right fit for us.’ (3) A wish of good luck in finding a home for your story elsewhere.
Do not read into a form rejection letter. ‘Not the right fit’ in this context could many any or every reason they didn’t want it. The whole point of this type of form rejection is to be as nice as possible. They don’t want to send anyone over the edge.
With a form rejection, you don’t know if they hated it, you don’t know if they were lukewarm towards it, you don’t know if it fell just a little, itsy-bitsy amount short. You don’t know.
A form rejection is a form rejection. Accept it and move on.
Not-So-Form Rejection Letters
Not every rejection is a form rejection. Some rejections are personalized, or say more. Take these rejections personally. By which I mean, take them positively. Someone paid enough attention and time to your story (or poem or whatever) to respond individually to it.
If the magazine doesn’t accept your story but mentions wanting to see more work from you in the future, take it as a good sign. Submit something to them in the future. They probably are not putting that in the form rejection because they probably don’t want everyone re-submitting to them.
Take it personally. Take it positively. Someone sees potential in you and your writing.
Perhaps you receive an update letter. Something that says ‘hey, we’re still holding onto your story for further consideration’ or ‘you’ve passed our first round, now we’re passing you along to our editor-in-chief’ or ‘we really like your story and we would like to publish it on our next issue if we still have funding.’
Those last two are paraphrases of the only two “bites” of all the submissions I have cast out to sea in the last year. I don’t know if either story is going to get published yet. That would be the ideal, happy end. But guess what, even if they don’t…
I’m taking it personally. I’m taking it positively. Someone sees potential in me and my writing.
(Seriously, I got one of those yesterday and have read over it several times because of all the warm fuzzies and affirmation it’s giving me.)
Let your successes, sometimes small, build you up. Don’t let the rejections tear you down. The rejections will always outnumber the acceptances, but that is the name of the game.
Another not so form rejection is when a rejection comes with specific feedback to your story. Some rare magazines do this for every submission, some do it never, some have it as an opt in during submission, some do it rarely when they are so moved by a submission.
Whether you agree with their feedback or not, whether you plan to edit your piece in consideration with their feedback… that’s up to you. I’m not going to give advice on that. I’m just to tell you…
Take personally. Take it positively. Someone sees potential in you and your writing.
Want to further interpret your rejection letters? Go read the submissions guidelines of that magazine. In there they have info about what they mean with their rejections. If they are a magazine that never or sometimes gives feedback. If they automatically reject anything that is not formatted as they requested. If they only send out form rejections. Etcetera and so on.
Seriously, don’t over-analyze your rejection letters, especially the form rejections. Take anything other than a form rejection as a sign that some editor at some magazine paused over your story. That it reached someone just a little bit, even if it doesn’t end in publication. Because the goal of creative writing is not actually publication. The goal of creative writing is to move someone with your writing. If you get one person to pay attention, you know you are on the right path.
How do you deal with rejection letters? Have you ever received some half-way successes?
Or, why the hell would I want to throw my voice into writing advice blog circuit.
Really, why the hell would I?
That’s why I avoided blogging for so long. I have a very limited range of interests, and they are very similar if not exactly the same as every other writing blog that exists out there. As an unpublished and still novice writer, what do I have to add that’s of any use?
Honestly, that is one of my big pet peeves of so many writing blogs, which is the novices passing on bad advice. Especially publishing and business advice. I will not be doing that.
Except for this one piece of advice: Do not take outdated or bad business advice from unpublished writers, or even published writers who don’t take an active hand in shaping their business success, but who instead leave it to their agent. Go read the blog posts at kriswrites.com under the Business Musings sections if you want writerly business advice.
So what will I be doing here?
I will be your correspondent, observing and editorializing from the sidelines about my writing journey. I think chronicling the ups and downs, especially the downs, can be an important narrative for new writers to become familiar with. It’s so easy to get down and disappointed with yourself and your writing when it is not meeting some level of success that you hope for. Any level of success. Just a little bit of recognition. Someone please just publish one my short stories here.
Excuse me, let me get back on track. So what advice can I give? Well, first not let’s say advice. Let’s say perspective. I can give perspective as someone who started as a fanfiction writer. As someone who paid a pretty penny to get an undergraduate in creative writing. As someone who now works as a librarian. As a working, aspiring writer who can finish a short story but has some real struggles with finishing novel drafts.
And honestly? I’m also here blogging for myself. Getting these writerly words out, vented, and maybe find some people commiserate with, could be a real relief. So, welcome to my therapy journal???
Insights from the life of an aspiring, struggling writer; a passionate reader, and a working librarian.
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