It’s 2020 D.C. –During COVID 19. Schools are closed, companies are closed, and humans are stranded at home. It’s not the best of conditions, obviously, and to save your sanity, you decide to hone in your writing skills. You plan to secure that mind blowing bio once and for all, and get confident enough to start applying for big name writing fellowships and prizes. If not now, when?
You have sent out seven stories since, and you have gotten five responses. One looks pretty amazing for you, the editor wrote back to tell you your story will be published on their site on July 23. Four flat out refused your story, “we are sorry to disappoint but” and some more fine words strung together to tell you they can’t give you a small space on their site. Worse still, only one bothered to tell you exactly why that rejection came in, “you have a good story but it is not fit for our theme at this time. Keep writing and feel free to submit your other stories to us!”
The other two submissions are still pending in your Submittable account and to be honest, you are not the most optimistic person now. All the energy you started out with is drained, story ideas are playing hide and seek, the world is at community transmission stage of COVID 19 and you had rather just watch TikTok videos at this point. So the constant thing ringing in your head is “is this writing thing really for me? Is my writing really that bad?”
- Yeah, sometimes your writing is really that bad. Sometimes, it’s plain horrid. Not because you don’t have a good story, but you have downplayed editing. They say to write is human but to edit is divine. Recently, I was going through my mail list and saw this story I submitted back in hundred level. It was rejected, nothing surprising there, but I just wanted to see the old me. I almost welled up by the end of the story. Horrid tenses, lack of direction, just aimless ranting on paper; I am never showing anybody that ‘thing’ because it’s almost embarrassing. And I submitted it to one of the big names. It’s a wonder they actually sent me a rejection mail.
My point is, your first draft of any work belongs to you and you alone. Not even to your beta reader or any editor, just you. Fine tune it as much as possible and send it to someone whose opinion and grammar you can trust and let them put little comments here and there. Of course, you don’t have to take every suggestion, but it helps you see things from another perspective. Just edit, edit and edit again before sending out your work.
- Every other time, your writing is not that bad. At some point (even now if I am being really honest with you) I just google up places to submit and send my work. No research at all, I just find an online publishing site and mail off my baby to them. Of course, this often results in rejections, my work mailed right back to me with a little shiny thank you bow.
It’s important that as much as you can, you take the extra time to know what the theme for the issue of a magazine is, or if the work tallies with what the magazine is doing or what it was created for. Sending a creative work featuring only male characters, or female characters with no definitive role to FITRA will most likely get it sent back, sending a cosmopolitan story to Bracken will be a mistake. So take a few minutes to find out what interests a particular publisher. If you can, read an issue or a story on their site to get a proper feel, and see if there’s a theme for that particular period they are interested in, for instance, I found most magazines are currently interested in isolation, lockdown and COVID 19 and if you are sending in works that do not in any way portray these themes to those magazines that specifically state this is what they want, it doesn’t matter how good your work is, it will be rejected.
- Cultivate the habit of resubmitting: Sometimes getting a rejection from a publisher can stop you from submitting that same story to another publisher. This should not be so. What doesn’t fit in with one publisher can be a story another publisher is pretty excited to have. So when you get a rejection, go through the work again for one more edit and send it to another publisher you think might be interested in your work. You can do this as often as possible till your work finds a home.
Although I personally am not a fan of simultaneous submissions because I am too lazy to write back that the work has been accepted elsewhere, if it’s your style, please go for it. You do not owe allegiance to any publisher, so if the submission guidelines of the online publishers says they are fine with it, you should submit to more than one site, if it’s something you are interested in. Just ensure you write to the others as soon as your work is accepted somewhere else. You don’t want the copyright headache.
- View rejection positively: This is probably the vaguest advice I have been given and the vaguest I will be giving as well. I haven’t completely figured this out yet, because rejection by its very nature dampens me, but one thing I have figured out is, rejections help me feel like an adult with writer problems. If you have a Submittable account, you know what I am saying. All those endless declines have this romantic side to them, and they are a proof that you are writing, that you are relentless and you are moving forward. I have a friend who set a target for hundred rejections this year and to be frank, I thought he was crazy at first. But we both laughed when he reached 35, I realized it was a ‘you can’t beat me at my own game’ strategy.
In conclusion, you can’t get rid of rejections, if you are taking the writing, you have to take the rejections too. You can get really good to a stage where you get less, but it’s never going to fully disappear. Accepting this is an important part of your journey as a person who has delved into the world of writing and submissions. Be grateful for your wins, let your losses fuel you and just have an amazing time exploring the voices in your head. Most of all, never forget the most cliché writer statement “write for yourself first, the world won’t be able to resist your style.”