In 2009, I finished a collection of interwoven short stories and thus started the years of submissions. Never, not once, despite a few close-but-no-cigar rejections, has a single word ended up published. I've given up many times - said that's that and mourned. But a call for submissions would catch my attention, so I'd format a piece and once again press "send." I mean, why not?
And now, four years later, in the past two months, two of the stories have won contests. In a Chamber of My Heart took first place in the 2013 Saints and Sinners Short Fiction Contest and Half-Boy came in second for Big Fiction's 2013 Knickerbocker Prize. What is going on? Why now? It's a curiosity. And a thrill. I'm remembering that eager author from 2009 with her fresh manuscript and her wild hope. Perhaps I'll dust her off.
So, I'm a bit stressed these days. An interest is being shown in my novel that-will-most-likely-not-turn-into-anything-but-right-now-I'm-both-hopeful-and-preparing-myself-against-the-sadness-of-a-rejection-by-making-a-plan-for-what's-next-and-watching-this-silly-video.
Maybe it's because of the obsessing, but don't you think this turtle's journey is a metaphor for the writer's life? The steadiness, the determined focus, the struggles - all for a nibble of lettuce.
It's September, the start of another season of journal submissions. Here are some of my own statistics to bolster us. The piece accepted into The North American Review - rejected 28 times by other places. The Fourth River - previously rejected 22 times. The Alaska Quarterly Review - only 2 times. The essay in the anthology Something to Declare - 18 times. Blue Crow Magazine - 17 times. Right now I have a story floating around with twelve rejections and five of them have been a you-made-it-to-the-final-round or something similar. (These are the ones where I yell "just publish the friggin' thing" at the e-mail.)
So often other writers tell me "well, I sent my story out a couple of times, but it got rejected so I guess that's that." And mostly, it's women who say this. And they say it in a sad voice. Screw sadness, I say to you and to myself. Submit widely and often.
I'm pretty good about not getting attached to my submissions. I figure I wrote them the best I know how and I send them out to the appropriate venues in the appropriate manner. That's all I can do, and it's no small accomplishment. But sometimes a rejection sneaks under my chest bone and sits heavy against my lungs while I consider the possibility that my work is (that I'm) "insufficient."
Last night I went to bed thinking that at least Diana Nyad was out there swimming an impossible expanse of water, in the dark, with sharks, and she was doing it by lifting and dropping her arm, one stroke after another. Add that paragraph to the first chapter of the new novel, make notes for the third, finally write that essay about my last menstrual period ever, revise the story of my mother and the Blitz - that's the list I made before I turned out the light.
Diana Nyad didn't make it from Cuba to Key West. After two years of daily grueling physical effort, all those people supporting her, all of us watching, and thirty hours of swimming she left the water. And, of course, she did make it in so many important ways. She inspired people, she pulled together a world community of supporters, and she swam for thirty friggin' hours. And I know I'll keep writing and recognizing success in all its manifestations. But this morning, today, all of us long distance swimmers, me and Diana Nyad, we get to honor this particular loss. We get to be sad.
Although we don't have a place for your work at the moment, we wanted you to know that we admired your work and we encourage you to submit again in the future. Thank you for thinking of ____________.
Best wishes, The Editors
Okay, is this e-mail a form rejection? I get this sort of response a lot. In the "old" days it was easy to tell. If the part about admiring and sending more work was handwritten, whoo whee, I could tell myself that I'd almost made it and another piece would be out to them in the return post. But these e-mail rejections leave me confused. This one doesn't use my name and there is nothing specific to the piece I submitted so maybe what we have here is kindly version of the form rejection. But journals are inundated with submissions so would they really ask for more if they didn't mean it? Perhaps they have pre-formulated layers of rejection e-mails and this one is somewhere in the middle.
Please, anyone out there from the other side of the submission process, tell us how interpret the modern rejection letter.
"Certainly not enough genuine talent for us to take note." "No special perception which would lift that book above the 'curiosity' level." "Get rid of that Indian stuff." "It is not really funny." "Irresponsible holiday story." "He hasn't got any future." "The whole is so dry and airless, so lacking in pace." "Good God, I can't publish this."
Yes, publishers said these things about now famous authors and their books. Here's the link to 30 Famous Authors Whose Works Were Rejected (Repeatedly and Sometimes Rudely) By Publishers. Use it when needed.
This past week I received three of those friggin' "like your writing, not quite right for this issue, please send more" rejections. As I yearned for someone to smooth my hair and say "there, there" in a quiet voice, the lovely Moonrat posted the website equivalent. Here's an excerpt.
"I must get published" fever hurts a lot of people. It causes people to do things in desperation that will hurt or limit their long-term options. My recommendation to authors--and I know this sounds much easier than it actually is--is to try to develop zen about your books. You write because you love to write. You continue to work on your projects, whatever they may be, because you want them to continue to improve. Some projects, however good they are, never need to see the light of day, because they've been stepping-stones on your road to self-development. They are what will train you to write the book that really matters.
This morning I made a list of every journal that had ever given me even a teensy tiny bit of encouragement, a list of well-regarded online journals, and a list of places I've, as yet, never submitted to.
And now I'm going through guidelines and matching pieces to them. If any editor out there thinks that my huge (and growing) list of rejections is going to protect them from my writing - hah.
My mother is in the hospital (getting better, thank you for asking), so not much actual writing is happening. However, the rejections keep coming. This week they included two form rejections, another dang while-we-have-decided-against-publishing-this-manuscript-we-enjoyed-it-and-encourage-you-to-submit-to-us-again (which I did), and a "no thank you" for something I had submitted one year ago.
But still - these rejections mostly, ultimately (except on those days when they don't) leave me encouraged. They mean that I'm writing, that I'm out there, that someone somewhere "enjoyed" something I wrote. Pathetic perhaps, but it keeps me going.
Okay, I'm off to the beeps, buzzes, moans, and clicks of the PCU Unit.
In the 90's a local group set up the Alachua Freenet. They had meetings at the public library, gave out computer disks, taught us all how to set up our computers for a free dial up system, and were called the "Commie Net" by commercial Internet businesses. I've been consistently on-line from then until three weeks ago.
I wasn't shocked by how dependent I am on the Internet, but the loneliness was a surprise. I missed the personal back and forth of e-mails, Twitter, and Facebook. And even though they have no idea who I am, I missed keeping up with the blog-documented going ons of agents, editors, and writers.
And I couldn't blog routinely. There are so many rejections I haven't whined about, unshared stories about the Old English Lady (my mother), and post-ACA tales.
But here's a picture of me at ACA, before my mother's illness, while I was writing hours and hours every day. (Photo credit: Renee Ashley)
Journal editors everywhere must have spent the weekend catching up on their backlog. They work hard, each and every one of them, and I appreciate all their efforts. So, thanks for the many wishes that I have luck placing the piece elsewhere.
And, all weekend I've been procrastinating. In the few hours that I was actually working, the writing was ineffectual. I tried putting in a little hint of what was to come, realized my hint had the size and grace of a bulldozer, and then went and watched ET with a million commercials instead of redoing it.
And, now I'm whining. If I still had periods, I'd think I was premenstrual. Well, I'm going to post this and then I'll either get back to work or go clean the toaster oven.
Yes, another one in a long line of those "we like your work, not this piece, please send more" rejections. I know these are "good" rejections that are supposed to buoy spirits and reaffirm purpose, but they are wearing me down. I just want to take that e-mail, crumble it into a ball, and throw it across the room while yelling/whining "why can't you just accept something."
Okay, back to writing.
Dang, I sure am tired of the rejections. I know, I was complaining about not getting any. What was I thinking? At least my poppy mallows are blooming.
So, I wallowed for two days. Then I thought, "hah, you're not getting rid of me" and prepared another submission. And I've finished the upcoming conference critiques. And I've prepared and timed my selections for the nightly readings. And tomorrow I take my van in for a tune-up.
And I've also actually written a bit on the new chapter. It's strange. My character dies of the Spanish Flu, and I have my first bout of the flu in over thirty years. At least I now have some relevant body experience to work with as I write - like the way sound burrs in your ears when you get a high fever.
Not in my mailbox out by the road or waiting for me on my yahoo account - not a single rejection in weeks. It makes me nervous not to be rejected. They're being saved up, I can feel it. It's like those ants. The ones that crawl up your arm and lurk until they all bite at once.
I've been reading the manuscripts for the upcoming Below Sea Level conference, making margin notes, and writing a critique summary for each one. I have to manifest my most arrogant writer self to carry this off. I mean, if I think about it, who am I to be say things like "redo the opening paragraph?"
In the meantime, I'm post-flu enough to start writing again. It won't do to not be writing when the ants bite.
You know how, when you've been messing in the yard, little black ants will quietly crawl up your arm and then, in response to some secret signal, bite all at once?
Today was a three rejection day. Well, four really. One place rejected me twice. So, just to make sure this sort of thing can keep happening, I've spent until late getting more submissions ready. Sheesh.
Rejection has prodded this web site into existence.
Yes, I made the short list for this year's Best Lesbian Erotica. After checking my e-mail every hour of every day for a month – I wish this was more of an exaggeration than it is – the "sorry, but..." message arrived. I allowed myself a period of wallowing that included a trip to Lane Bryant, a word by word analysis of the rejection letter, extended whining to other writer friends (Civilians just can't listen long enough.), and the stereotyped, yet nonetheless effective, trek to the local ice cream parlor.
Now I'm back in the saddle, which for me means propped up in bed with the computer and yellow pad alternating places on my lap. Post wallowing, I have committed to a thousand words a day on the new book (5000 in five days – yippee to me). I have also signed up for the Typepad free trial. When that next acceptance comes, I need to have a web link ready to paste into my bio.