Some Notes on Rejection

1) I just went through the speediest version of the writing and publishing process I’ve ever experienced. It was like a lit journal sub on crack. As follows:

Last week I noticed that Hobart is having a special themed issue; the guidelines, which are here at the moment (but most likely won’t be for more than a few weeks longer), ask for “stories about midgets, dogs (not small ones, unless something funny happens to them, sorry), ninjas fighting samurai warriors, battle axes, whiffle ball, las vegas, lawn darts, fireworks, things getting blowed up!, sharks,” and so on (you get the idea). I thought, what a great assignment! How inspiringly restrictive! And so Friday evening I started writing a short piece according to these oddball criteria; Saturday morning I finished it up; Saturday afternoon I e-mailed it to Hobart; Sunday morning I received a rejection letter (which had been sent late Saturday night). Amazing! I don’t think it should always go this way, any more than I think anyone should try to survive only on a diet of sugar cereals. But it was cool to zoom through the entire process all compressed like that, compared to the usual months or even years that it takes—and I got a great story out of the deal (one that addresses the question, why are the myths of space-traveling dogs so haunted by their fear of dinosaurs?). Which is the most important thing.

2) This past spring I congratulated a writer friend of mine on her acceptance to a highly competitive writers residency; she wrote in her reply: “Thanks! I’d forgotten I’d even applied.” This, I think, is an excellent rule of thumb. I don’t mean being one of those writers who simply send everything they write to everywhere that publishes—as going that route means spending so much money on postage that you’d do better to blow it on your own vanity press operation. (You’re also wasting the time of potentially hundreds of other literarily minded folk—bad karma!) What I mean is, rather, doing your homework; reading widely and voraciously; keeping tabs on the current journal scene, not just as a writer and submitter, but also as a reader and subscriber and enthusiastic fan; sending work out smartly and savvily, and also consistently and persistently—i.e., to have enough of your writing out there that you forget where it is—while maintaining a detailed scratch sheet keeping exact tabs on where it all is, of course. (As another writer friend of mine once remarked, “A week I’m not being rejected is a week I’m not being read!”) And doing all this while never forgetting to always, always be polite, brief, gracious, thick-skinned, and professional, and to say thank you, and mean it. No one trying to succeed as a writer or literary journal editor is in it for the money; everyone is in it for the love. Don’t forget to spread it widely as you go!

3) For a more articulate take on what I’m trying to say here, I recommend reading Felicia Sullivan’s recent post on how to annoy a literary journal editor. You might also want to read the equally kickass and brilliant Ms. Shanna Compton’s notes from this past spring on how to save poetry (all of which apply to fiction too)—and why not look at what Shanna had to say about rejection slips? And I swear I saw something in the past year in Poets & Writers on the necessity of doing research and submitting more savvily (and never forgetting to be polite); however, all I can find is this piece on writers’ myths, which is a good thing, though, because it’s also helpful stuff to remember. And in poking around the Inter-Webs trying to find what I thought I’d read, I stumbled on an interview with the editor of Other Voices on Bookslut; as she put it, “a writer is obligated to do some homework.” Which sums up what I’m trying to get at here nicely.

4) Finally, here is a note I jotted down in workshop this past spring:

“Steel yourself against rejection; get right back on that horse. Remember: not everyone’s going to ‘get’ you—but then, why would you want them to? There’s no authority out there. There’s just a bunch of folks, and some of them are in a bad mood.”

A good thing to always keep in mind—and not just for the writing life, I think.

Back to work.