Hello again, digital wasteland, and welcome back to the void. Would you like a drink? Since you have followed the bread crumbs this far, I may as well put on some pants and give you another nickel’s worth of free advice. Put on a helmet, this will be bumpy.
So far I have covered some essentials on submitting to and researching journals and magazines. What if you have followed all of my “brilliant” advice, polished your speculative piece about leg-raping ghost dogs and — horror of horrors — you still receive the big “R”? Law of average in this line of torture strongly suggests that a rejection is exactly what you will receive. You will collect far more rejections than acceptances over the course of your writing career. Know this from the get-go.
Whether they are from a junior high crush who turned you down for the Winter Formal or the casual hookup you found on Craigslist who will not agree to the Rusty Trombone you have always wanted, rejections are never fun to receive. They never get easier to receive either. You simply need to dust your pride off and move the fuck on.
To help you do just that, here are some things I wish someone had told me before I started submitting.
Rejections happen. No one is immune. Let that be your mantra. Rejections do not mean that you are not talented. Rejections do not mean you are any less of a writer. In fact, rejections are irrelevant. No one is remembered for the work they did not have published.
Here are several potential ways to deal with a rejection:
Which one would you choose? If you said A or B, we would get along just fine. If you said C, maybe you should find another outlet, pumpkin. If you said D, then you are a much better person than I am. That is precisely how you should deal with a brush-off.
It sucks to receive that thanks but no thanks email. As much as I would like to advise you not to take the turndown personally, you are going to. I still take them personally. Your work is on the line and, if it is any good, it contains a piece of your fleshy mass. A cold shoulder to your work is a slap in the face to you. Even though the editor does not mean to be insulting, a rejection IS personal.
Most rejections will include some sort of bullshit diplomacy such as, “please feel free to submit to us in the future”, but in this weary storyteller’s humble opinion that is a morbidly obese waste of everyone’s time. If the spirit moves you to prove an editor wrong, give it a whirl. If you feel like banging your head against the wall feel free to do so as much as you would like.
Allow yourself to be upset or angry, but there is no need to wallow for too long. There is also no need to embark on a social media rampage. There is no need to inform the editor how famous you will become and how sorry they will be for overlooking your tortured genius. The overwhelming odds are you will not be famous and they will not remember you anyway.
On that uplifting note, I would like to present the main types of rejections you can expect to receive in bulk. They work great for kindling.
First up is one of the more aggravating methods of dismissal: the implied rejection or the ‘no response means no’ rejection. These are not as prevalent today as more and more publications use Submittable which generates a response either way. There are a dwindling number of ‘zines and journals that still accept submissions by email though, and even a smaller number who request snail mail. Such publications reserve the right to exercise these taciturn refusals.
The radio silence is fucking maddening. How lazy and unprofessional can an editor be? Well, in reality they are extremely busy. Smaller journals in particular are run on the staff’s spare time for ridiculously little to no money. If they do not dig your work, they do not owe you a god-damn thing.
With the ‘no means no’ rejection you can query if it would help you sleep at night, but a good rule of thumb is if you have not heard a peep in four to six months it is a hard no.
I consider this ‘hell no’ to be my personal favorite. Form rejections are impersonal. They are terse. They typically give no indication as to whether or not your work was given any serious consideration. You are not addressed by name and your work is not cited anywhere in the message. Before the digital age these were photocopies of photocopies. Nothing says, “I couldn’t care less about your particular submission” like an apathetic, dismissive follow-up.
The form rejection requires no further action. They have intentionally made it clear they do not want your work. Hit the road Jack, and move on to a different camp. These are the vast majority of denials you will add to your collection.
I have several of mine framed.
Next is the personal rejection. This is the letter encouraging your good effort with a pat on the ass, or a tousle of the hair. Not quite good enough for publication, but good enough to pique the interest of an editor or two. The personal rejection will most likely come with some notes on the work you submitted, guiding you in a direction the editor believes would be beneficial.
Even if an editor does not ask specifically for other work in the personal rejection, they have still taken enough interest in you to provide customized feedback. Stay on their radar by submitting more work sooner rather than later. Take their notes with a grain of salt, but be on the lookout for a few nuggets of helpful advice.
You should be able to scrape one or two globs of wisdom from the editorial bukkake.
Last is the request for additional/alternative material. This form of rejection tells you that the editor digs your work, but does not feel the particular piece submitted is right for the publication’s current climate. They may invite you to submit an alternate piece and give a far more specific indication of what they are presently seeking. These rejections are the best case scenario, aside from actually getting published.
They are also the G spot of rejection letters. Do not expect to find one any time soon, if ever.
The request for additional material requires immediate attention. You should get them more words as soon as humanly possible. Like yesterday. This is a great way to show an editor you are hungry. You have to stay hungry in this game. You have to stay driven. No one is going to light a god-damn fire under your ass for you.
No retreat, no surrender.
If you are producing and submitting consistently you will receive enough rejections to wallpaper an entire house. The good news is there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of journals and magazines in existence. Take your lumps and find yourself another target. Or another genre. Or another style. It may take a shift in all of the above to accurately represent your blood and sweat. Even if that means starting from square one.
As difficult as it can be, you have to be brutally honest about your own work above all else. Never fall in love with anything you write. Let your words explode from your heart and your guts, but if you become too attached it will be impossible to put a diseased piece out of its misery. You need to be able to pull the trigger on Old Yeller if/when the time comes.
Next week I will be expounding upon what merciless self-examination looks like and how it can advance your work. Until then keep scribbling, you freaks.
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