This is one of those posts I write as much for my own benefit, as for yours.

Sometimes, I have to talk myself down from the ledge. I have to offer myself the same encouragement and advice I would give to a writer friend or client or student.

What brought all this on?

With the holidays and a number of changes to my work flow and daily habits, I had allowed a large number of rejections to pile up in my “submissions” inbox. (I have a separate email account I use only for submitting and receiving replies to submissions.) I wasn’t sure exactly how many. I took note of each rejection as it came in, and even had a really positive and interesting exchange with the editor of Fabula Argentina, via email, about my story and the world of short fiction publishing. So, somewhere, in my mind, I was very aware of each of those rejections.

But, I had not updated my submissions tracker (I use Duotrope) for quite a while, and this week I decided I needed to do so. When I went through and updated the status from “pending” to “rejected” I had 21 rejections waiting.

Twenty-one.

I have to admit, after recording those rejections I was a little down. Every time I submit a piece I have an irrational optimism: THIS is the time. THIS is the home for this particular story. FINALLY I’ll see my name on the pages of…

You get my point.

I suppose it is natural, then, to take the rejections personally, even though I really DO understand the nature of the publishing business, especially when it comes to literary journals and short fiction stories.

Reality bites…

Does it ever feel to you that editors or agents have a big, red thumbs-down button they push whenever your work comes across their desk?
Does it ever feel to you that editors or agents have a big, red thumbs-down button they push whenever your work comes across their desk?

The reality is this: for every story a literary magazine prints, they have rejected hundreds (and sometimes thousands…literally) of other stories that did not “make the cut.” The standard rejection letter is worded something like this:

We appreciate the opportunity to read your work, but it does not meet the needs of our publication at this time. Due to the large volume of submissions, we cannot comment on the specific reasons why any one story was not accepted, but we have to pass up a lot of good stories for lack of room.

Fair enough. The competition is fierce. To make it through the layers of readers and editors and even be in the running for the final cut is a big deal. It’s an honor just to be nominated. And, it isn’t reasonable to think that the editors (often volunteer or marginally paid) can give guided feedback to every story that comes across their desk.

Usually, I take these rejections with an optimist’s attitude: Mine was surely one of the “good stories” that they had to pass on. But when there are twenty-one of those decisions staring me in the face, it’s harder to swallow.

Maybe I’m just kidding myself, I thought. Maybe these stories aren’t any good.

Reality check

Thankfully, I didn’t stay in the funk for long. As I entered each rejection into the database and updated my list of submissions still outstanding, I got a little glimpse of optimism to return. The Cincinnati Review and The Virginia Quarterly and Meridian all still have my stories to consider. Wouldn’t it be great if one of them said yes?

And then, I re-read the rejection letters. In that batch of twenty-one rejections, there were six personal responses. Six editors took a moment or two to provide me with more feedback than just a standard reply. Six editors said, in effect, “Your story didn’t make the final cut, but we liked it, and hope you’ll send us more.”

Ah. The little victories can be very important.

If I were talking to a fellow writer, or creative writing client, I would tell them just how tough it can be to land a story in a literary magazine. How tough the competition is.

I would do what some of my friends and family did when I posted on Facebook how discouraging it is to see those rejections: I would say, “Keep at it!” and post a link to a blog article which details the number of times some of the best-sellers were rejected.

And so, I write this here to remind me, and to encourage you: The only way to overcome the rejection is to keep writing. Give yourself five minutes for self-pity and angst, then get your butt back in the writing chair and keep pressing onward.

I may be rejected the next hundred submissions and the hundred after that. I don’t know. But if I don’t submit, I won’t be published. No editor is going to come seek me out and beg me to dig around my file drawers and find something—anything—for them to publish. It doesn’t work that way.

I have to brave the rejections in order to ever have a shot at the prize.

Now, I’m off to write. I hope you are too.

Happy writing, everyone.

21 Reasons My Writing Sucks… (Or Does it?)