Guest blogger Faye Rapoport DesPres on “Submitting to Literary Journals? Expect, then Conquer Rejection.”
Rejection and discouragement: if you are submitting your work to literary journals, chances are you will experience both. There’s no way around it – rejections happen, and they happen a lot. Not every editor is going to love your work, and the chances of hitting the right editor on the right day at the right journal are slim. However, those chances improve greatly if you research the journals you are interested in, get to know the type of work they publish, send your very best work, and pay careful attention to the journal’s submission guidelines.
Even after you get hardened to the process (which is likely after you’ve been submitting for a while), it can be tough to read those dreaded words: “Thank you for sending us your work. Unfortunately, it does not suit our present needs.” Each time you get this message, as hard as you try not to care, it will probably feel like a kick in the gut. After a while you might get so used to this feeling, in fact, that you’ll do that odd thing that writers do – distinguish “bad rejections” (form letters) from “good rejections” (personal notes from editors, rejections that invite you to submit again, or, let’s face it, anything that isn’t a form letter).
I started submitting personal essays to literary journals about three years ago, after I completed my degree at the Solstice MFA Program in Creative Writing. The first year of submitting was torture; after one acceptance from a magazine, I received rejection after rejection from literary journals. I used to write to my former teachers in despair, only to have them respond by saying something to this effect: “Keep writing and keep trying.” Remember, they said, the only way to guarantee failure is to give up.
The first time one of my essays was accepted by a literary journal, I nearly missed the news. I was so sure I was receiving another rejection that I had to do a double take and re-read the editor’s note. I was riding in the passenger seat of our car (my husband was driving), and I put my hand over my mouth and said, “Oh, my God, one of my essays was accepted!” I think I was in shock.
Thankfully, over time, more acceptances arrived. For me, as for most writers, there continue to be many more rejections than acceptances. I maintain a spreadsheet in Excel to help me remember what piece I submitted where (and when). The sheet is color coded: plain black for submissions in play, red for rejections, blue for rejections that invite more work, and green for acceptances. Red far outweighs every other color (although the blue is getting more prominent with time). Green is the least common color on the sheet (when a submission turns green, I happily allow myself put the type in bold).
Like many writers, I have very thin skin. I can’t deny that it has been a huge challenge to stay confident in the face of all of those “Thanks but no thanks” rejections. Occasionally I even give myself a break from submitting just so I can catch my breath.
I once read a piece of advice from Joy Castro (www.joycastro.com), one of my faculty mentors and the author of several books, including the recent crime thriller, Hell Or High Water. Joy wrote: “You wanted this. You chose it. Get back up.”
Stick with it. I’m rooting for you.
Faye’s website is www.fayerapoport.com and her blog is http://blog.fayerapoportdespres.com/. Her essays, fiction, poetry, interviews, and reviews have appeared in a number of literary journals and magazines, including Ascent, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, Eleven Eleven, Hamilton Stone Review, Platte Valley Review, Prime Number Magazine, Superstition Review, In the Arts, Fourth Genre, and The Writer’s Chronicle.