Sunday, February 1, 2009

On Submissions

Reflecting on a recent story acceptance I got from The Ampersand Review, I realized two very interesting things.

First, I realized something about rejections. This story is one that I just finished revising at the end of December and had only just started submitting it around when I already got the acceptance. I submitted it to seven places and got it accepted by one of them within a few weeks. It made me go back and reflect on the other acceptances I’ve gotten, and they’ve all been similar situations. Every story I’ve ever gotten accepted has been accepted quickly, after receiving no more than a few rejections before somebody accepts it. It occurs to me that, while I still firmly believe that rejections can be a result of many more factors than simply that the story isn’t publishable, it may be safe to say that if a story gets rejected by ten journals, it probably needs more revision.

I’ve heard of writers who use this as a rule. They submit a piece ten times, and if it gets rejected all ten, they stop submitting it and go back to work on it. But I was never too sure about that idea, since I know full well that a rejection might mean nothing more than that the editor didn’t even read more than the first sentence or two and was reading even that much just looking for a reason to reject. But since my record seems to suggest that maybe if a piece is actually ready, it will find a home fairly quickly, I’m re-evaluating my thoughts on this general rule.

I think I’m going to adopt this rule myself. If a story gets rejected in the first round of sim-subs, and I usually send out to around 10 places in one batch, I’ll go back and read through it again. Really closely look for what might be causing these editors to say no. It could be that the first sentence isn’t engaging enough, or something as simple as a missed typo early on which may be causing the editors to quickly lose faith in my professionalism. Or there may be more serious craft or plot problems that, for whatever reason, I didn’t notice the first time I decided it was ready.

The second thing I realized was that a lot of my fellow MFA students are simply not submitting. I had some conversations with a few different people about submissions recently, and it seems to be the case that many, maybe even most, of my peers in the program here at UAF rarely submit at all. This is so sad to me because you obviously can’t get accepted if you don’t submit and acceptances are an important part of encouraging you to keep at it. Over and over again I’m simply blown away by the excellent writing that my peers here are doing, and yet many of them have never even been published at all . . . because they don’t submit!

I really wish that MFA programs helped train people for the business side of writing. How to craft cover and query letters. How to approach agents. How to revise your stories not just to make them as good as possible for somebody who has already committed to reading them all the way through, but also to make your stories engage a reader (like an editor or agent!) early on who may not actually have the time to read every story they come across all the way through. And just as important as all those things is the simple act of submitting. Regularly.

But MFA programs don’t usually focus on these things and so it’s important for each writer, as an individual, to do it for him or herself. I think it’s a good idea to set goals for everything in writing, but even more so for submissions. Force yourself to submit to a certain number of places each month. Keep track of your rejections and don’t be ashamed of them, they’re an important part of being a writer. A fellow MFAer at UAF is collecting her submissions and counting toward the magic number 100, at which point she’s going to go out and treat herself for all the hard work she’s put in. I think that’s an awesome idea because after all rejections are just as much a part of being a writer as acceptances are. I say if you’re not getting rejected regularly that means you’re not submitting enough!

1 comment:

Master Dayton said...

I think you're dead on there. There are many good writers who should be getting published more, but you can't get published if you don't submit. I know I don't submit nearly enough at this point, but I still have several publications and a lot of editor feedback because I still put the work out there. The business side of writing is definitely huge, and on one hand I don't write creatively as much as I would if I wasn't making a living freelance writing 8 hours a day, but at least the business side of writing is something I'm well prepared for. Keep up the great writing!