As Managing Editor of The Forge Literary Magazine, I read a lot of submissions. As a writer, I send very few. I am really bad at sending subs out. If I get a rejection my reaction is along the lines of thinking my story isn’t good, instead of thinking perhaps it simply didn’t chime with whoever read it. The coolest writers I know tell me they send their work out many, many times until it is accepted. I know how ridiculous I am, but I usually wait another few months (six months, maybe a year) and then send the piece out to another venue. Two form declines and that piece is dead to me. Which is obviously stupid. I am vowing here and now to change that. I think I actually get a bit ashamed when my work is rejected as if I was delusional to think it was publishable. At the same time I know I am a good writer. It’s yet another of those fucksy things that co-exists and makes little sense.
Every time I read for FLM I am hoping the piece will be brilliant. I imagine that’s true of all editors. I mean, why read if not to discover wonderful writing? An immediate acceptance is super rare at FLM (although I did just that recently when I accepted a piece nobody else has read because I simply loved it and it was exhilarating to read something that good.) More likely is a yes vote on an admired piece which takes it to the Editorial Table where the Editors of the Month consider it. The majority of pieces sent to us are declined, but if someone gives a maybe vote it will then get passed to another editor for their opinion. Two maybes is a pass to the Editorial Table. I am telling you this because I voted maybe on a flash a couple of months ago. Another editor also voted maybe so it has been under consideration for a while. People have read and commented, but nobody has said they want to keep it and today, when I was going through the stories we’ve hung on to, I figured I’d decline. I read it again and was blown away. This isn’t a maybe piece, this is a hell yes piece. It’s terrific. Apparently I can’t even trust my own judgment to remain consistent. This is one of those revelations which is obvious, I know, but it feels useful enough to me that I’m hoping it might be useful to someone else. I can’t count the number of times I’ve told people that writing and reading is subjective. As is music. As is film. As is… etcetera. And yet I take rejection as a personal judgment rather than someone’s subjective opinion. Two months ago I gave a considered maybe vote to a piece that today I want to publish. Nothing has changed in that time, the words remain the same. Perhaps the first time I read it I was tired, I was in a different mood. But good writing is always good writing. This is why it’s useful to get more than one opinion. But although others liked this flash they too gave it a maybe. Today it’s a yes. A definite yes. I will remember that the next time I get a no.
I keep forgetting to mention that I am in The Best of Every Day Fiction 2 – an anthology from those EDF peeps. It’s available in hardback or softback. Thanks to EDF for including my wee story “The Collector of Shiny.”
I was pleased to be in the debut issue of kill author and I am pleased that they have been voted best new online magazine or journal in the storySouth Million Writers Award. Woot woot! Speaking of the Award, kudos aplenty to all the writers who have been listed in the notable stories list. There’s some really good, good writing there (special mention must surely go to Roxane Gay who has, what, six stories nominated?)
And tooting my own (plastic, red and yellow, imaginary toy) trumpet, it’s been brilliant to get my writing mojo back after a long time being ill and brain fuddled. I have been writing words that please me, and feeling pretty good about it. I started subbing again (after a long time of not) and yesterday I got acceptances for 5 pieces of work. Five! In one day! (Though if I break it down, four pieces were accepted by the same place, does that count? But – I sent four hoping that they might find something to like amongst them and am THRILLED that they said, yup, we like, and took them all.) The other piece found a home somewhere I have really wanted to be published, after a requested rewrite. I spent some days nervously checking my emails, and hoping that my rewrite was solid. So yay!
And – the best words to hear on going into work?
“I saw a rep. last week, he had some new short story collections so I took them for you.”
Yup. Life can be good.
Sending work “out there” means waiting for responses. I’m not so great at subbing. I know writers who constantly have lots of work out at one time and just send that baby straight back out the minute it comes back to them. I understand that, I just don’t do it myself.
Thing is, I choose really carefully where I want a story to go. I’m not “this must be published no matter what” I’m, “Ooh, I think my story “You say Grigio I say Gris – who knows why?” would be perfect at THAT PLACE, so I send it off, and stay hopeful, and if it comes back unwanted I feel a little sad for “You say…” and I write down the date of the rejection and any comments I got in my skull notebook, and that’s it.
A month or so may pass and I’ll look at the story again, edit a little, and realise, “Ooh, no, THIS PLACE would be superb for my story” and so it goes.
While something is still being considered there’s a gorgeous feeling of possibility. For ages I had a really high ratio of successful subs to rejected ones. I think that’s gone now. That sucks. But that was happening when I was writing fresh words regularly. Illness and family responsibilities have cut my new words way down but hooooo-rah, recently I have written a couple of brand new stories. It feels so good to have actually made some stuff up! I am now in that world of hope again and feel like good news may be just an email away. I am doing that too frequent email refreshing.
Anyway, there have been a heap of top tips for writers around the blogs but none pleased me as much as this wonderful list by Laura Ellen Scott “Get out of that slushpile, what are you crazy?!?!?”
Perhaps if I follow her advice faithfully I’ll boost my success stats.
I was advised that it would be better if I didn’t talk about rejections and submissions on my blog in case it gives a “bad impression” of my writing abilities. The person who advised this meant well, and said it kindly, but I just don’t think it’s my style to pretend that I only ever send out successful submissions. I don’t sub a lot, I rarely enter competitions, and I am trying to focus wholeheartedly on completing my novel, however, I have several small fictions that I would like to see published, and I mentioned here that I had sent a few to various places. So far I have had three rejections for three different pieces. As far as rejections go, these are lovely and encouraging. Three different editors have bothered to send me these comments:
Editor one – “We’re passing but this is a fine piece. Would be happy to read more of yours”
Editor two – “How’s it going? I just read the flash fiction piece you submitted. I regret to say that “xxxx” didn’t make the final cut for ZZZZ. Nevertheless, i really dig your style and think your style would make a great fit for ZZZZ. So feel free to submit a fresh batch of work for future consideration.”
Editor three – ” Thanks for sending us “xxxx”. We’re sorry to say they didn’t quite find a home in ZZZZ. We had a bumper crop of submissions and had to make a lot of hard decisions fast, and live with them, unfortunately. It was a close run thing. We always like pieces that are a little off the main road like this, so we do hope you’ll send us something for the next issue. We think you were unlucky this time around.”
Nice huh? All three say they would like to see more. That’s great. But (y’all knew there’d be a but, right?) really, hmm, if it’s so fine, and you dig my style and so on…erm…what else do you want? Gimme a clue maybe and I’ll see if I have something that works.
Ho hum, onwards….
Oh, and yes, dear writing chums, I hear you, I will send them elsewhere, I will keep faith, I’m not unhappy, I’m merely pondering.
I steeled myself and sent off another few bits and pieces to various literary magazines. My printer is broken (my printers always become fucksy real fast, it’s a thing) so I only sent to places that accept online subs. Thinking about it though, I rarely post my stories. I entered a couple of big competitions early this year, but the printing and finding the right envelope and the age old question, to staple or paperclip, then the post office queue – I’m probably a bit too crap to do it very often.
I imagine other writers who are super organised, and have printers that work smoothly, whose ink never blobs on an essential page, whose paperclips are shiny and new, whose paper is just thick enough, but not off puttingly fancy. When they print the words on the page look just as they want them to, not suddenly skew whiff or with no margin or sudden jumbo spacing. These writers post their words. I envy them a little.
I sent a small piece of fiction to Dogzplot at 20.38 last night, and Barry Graham responded at 20.47. Nine minutes! Wow!
And it was an acceptance, so yay, both for the super zippy response, and for the yes.
I am so shit at subbing. Once in a while I’ll sit down and really devote time to the process, but mostly I just whine about being rejected, and totally ignore the “get it back out there” advice of writing pals. It’s like I’ll give it one shot, and if someone doesn’t fall on it and say yes, I don’t quite love it enough any more. I do have one story that I have sent out 8 times. That’s a major amount of attempts for me. But I have a rather rare to me self confidence about it. I think it is good, dammit. It’s come close a couple of times. I have had an editor ask me to change it a bit, and I refused, because I am CONVINCED that it is good as is. I had another Ed say that they nearly published it but at the very last minute they didn’t. No reason. Weird. Anyway, I sent it back out today, this time to a female editor, because it suddenly struck me that maybe that would help.
All the place I sent to today are zines that I read and consider chock full of good quality writing. And, I didn’t even sim sub. Ah, the heady feeling of hope mixes with the blah inevitability of rejection. I’ll get used to it eventually. Perhaps.