If there’s one thing that all writers can agree upon, it’s that getting rejected sucks.
As someone who tends to spend years tolling away on long-form works like novels and memoirs, I haven’t played the literary magazine submission game too often. Now and then, I feel compelled to send out a few pieces, and most don’t get accepted. I didn’t mind as much in the past because I stuck to poems and short stories. However, this time I did a submission blast specifically for essays and excerpts from my memoir.
Sending out such personal and sensitive work for the first time was difficult. While I don’t have much of a problem with others reading about my life (even the embarrassing, weird, and awkward parts of it), having that same work rejected from the get-go was a much more frightening prospect.
And I did get rejections. So far, I’m 0 for 5 with 2 submissions pending. When the negative responses started to trickle in, I did lose heart. Those moments you receive rejections are the ones you most question being a writer…well, not including the ones when you get so frustrated while trying to write something that you put your face in your hands, groan repeatedly, give up for the day and eat a bunch of gummy bears while watching Gilmore Girls reruns.
Actually, I might be the only one who does this. But I’m sure you have a similarly strange frustration coping process. (Tell me in the comments!)
I’m not going to pretend that this process didn’t shake my confidence. It did. However, as I’ve been posting about this endeavor on Facebook and Twitter, I’ve received many comments from people who have also struggled with rejections. Everyone has assured me that not only is it perfectly normal, but that in many ways rejection makes you stronger as a person and a writer.
This response from talented memoirist and craft book author Sue William Silverman was my favorite: “I received a gazillion rejections before I received my first acceptance…and I still receive rejections. It’s just part of this being an artist thing we signed up for. Just remember how subjective it is. The important thing is to never, ever give up!”
That’s really the key thing to remember when submitting work anywhere, be it a literary magazine, agent, or publisher – it’s subjective. A lot of the time, a publication is overwhelmed with submissions. Sometimes, your writing doesn’t match the reader’s personal preference. Rejections don’t mean you’re a bad writer. They just mean you haven’t found the right home for your work yet. The right home for your work might even be indie or self-publishing. You have the power to accept your own work and allow readers to decide for themselves whether they like it.
My take-away from this submission/rejection process is to:
1. Keep working on your craft. The writing itself is ultimately what matters most.
2. Keep submitting. Eventually, you will find a home and audience for your work if it’s well-written and meaningful.
3. Share your journey with others. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed by rejections. Getting those words of encouragement from my friends, fellow writers, and well-published authors is what saved me from spiraling into a pit of self-pity and defeat. Take advantage of this thing we call social media and reach out. It’s a much more effective coping strategy than eating gummy bears (and way less fattening).