06 October 2014

submit-o-rama q&a -- session 1: rejection reflections

October Submit-O-Rama Q&A: Session 1
This October, rather than tossing out a lot of information at those of you participating in the Submit-O-Rama, I thought I'd take time to answer some of the questions I've received from you over the past few SORs. These posts will be all about you ... what you worry about, what you wonder, what you want to know! As the month goes on, if you have new questions that arise that you'd like to see answered as part of the October SOR, feel free to shoot me an email or post to Facebook, and maybe you'll see the answer magically appear during one of the upcoming posts! Enjoy!

Q1: Why don't more writers share their rejection statistics?

This is a question I've seen a LOT since the beginning of the Submit-O-Rama, often asked in a few different ways. One of the more common ways this question comes up is folks asking a more pointed question: "Is it normal to get [x number] rejections, or is it just me?" The answer to this latter question is: It's not just you. And the answer to the question at issue, I think, is: Nobody really likes to share their perceived "failure." Writers love to share their acceptances, recent publications, book deals, et cetera. A writer who really wants to share his or her journey, on the other hand, will open up about the rejection slips, the "No"s from editors, the calls for major reworkings of their babies by agents, and so forth. The thing is, it's hard to talk about a "no" without it sounding like "Look at how bad I am at this." But the truth is, it takes those "no"s to get to the treasured "yes," and it takes one writer sharing that truth to another to help that other writer get there, too. So rest assured, you're not a failure, any more than any writer who faced a thousand nos before a yes is a failure.

Q2: Why do you send out so many submissions at the same time?

I think what this question really points to is a hesitation to send out a ton of submissions only to risk the (high) probability of then receiving a ton of rejections. Personally, I send out large batches of poems when I submit to increase my odds of finding my "yes" in a haystack of "no." Let's say you have a one in ten shot of being published ... why would you not, then, send out ten groups of writing? Make it fifteen to really increase your odds. With a one in ten shot, sending out 20 submission groups potentially gives you two publication creds in the end. I'd rather increase my number of publications by two than by zero ... wouldn't you?

Q3: You don't really send submissions to journals just because you like their names ... do you?

Yes ... yes I do. I address this question for two reasons. First, so that you understand that every writer has her or his own reason for submitting the way they do, and some reasons make more sense than others. Second, so you understand that not all submitting work has to be the most serious work you've ever done. Maybe I'll decide one week to find a list of journals beginning with numbers. Maybe I know all twelve I come up with will probably say no to my work. But maybe one will say yes. I know the odds are against me ... why not have some fun whilst I play them? The other thing to keep in mind here is that you will be drawn to one journal over another for one reason or another. Sometimes it will be a "good" reason (they published other writers who write just like you, you know someone on staff, the journal was recommended to you by a friend who really gets your work, etc.) ... Sometimes it will be a not-quite-as-good reason (you want to be just like X-writer, and X-writer was published here, you for some reason are dying to get a rejection slip from The New Yorker, you like this journal's most recent cover even though you haven't read a single word they've printed ever). There's no bad reason to submit to a journal, as long as there's a reason at all.

Q4: How do I know when my work is ready for publication?

The short answer to this is "You don't." A piece being "ready" is like a baby being born. You may have an idea that it's time to send that work forth, but once it decides to get out there, you can't really control what happens. A piece may be perfect, but you may also be sending it to all the wrong places. I've had flawed pieces accepted for publication. There's no such thing as "perfect" or "finished" work. Part of me also wants to share that you know a piece is ready when you've received multiple rejections but you still feel like you need to put it out there. A piece that's ready is a piece you just can't make yourself give up on. That "someone has to take this" feeling is usually a pretty good gut feeling that someone, someday, is going to take it.

Q5: What does it mean when a journal says there wasn't room for my work?

I include this question because I received it a few times over the past few months from former students and a few current students of friends who know I edit or read for literary journals. There are two takes on this response from a journal. The first is: This is a really nice way of saying they were never going to publish your work. The second is: This is a really nice way of saying your work was almost there, but not quite ready, and with some edits it will get in next time. I tend to lean toward the latter. If your work is great, and ready to go, then unless the journal has an actual page quota and yours came in just after they reached it, they'll print it. "Space constraints" is often a nice way of saying "We had to save room for the really, really great stuff. Your work was great, but fell short of really, really great." More important than understanding what this statement from one journal means is figuring out how to use it to your advantage. One journal saying that space was the primary reason for your work not making it means you have pretty good odds of another journal taking it. It also means that if you really want the journal that said "no" to change its mind, you have some tweaking to do .. and it will be worth your while to tweak.

Have questions you'd like to see answered this month about submitting, publishing, rejections, and more? Send them in, and I'll try to hit them as soon as possible! Until then ... Happy writing, and good luck submitting!

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