How are you? Winter in the northern US has simultaneously felt both long and short. This is about the point in the year where I desire daily afternoon naps and I quit my second cup of coffee because it doesn’t seem to make a difference. Please don’t misunderstand — I’m not writing a “why me,” blog post. Warmer weather is right around the corner and I’m ready to dose on sunny vitamin D.
This does seem like a good time to talk about rejections; specifically, rejections of the literary sort. If you’ve ever submitted your work for consideration to a journal, magazine, agent, or publisher, you’ve most likely experienced the rejectionary ache. It’s a specific swirly feeling that comes with the an email to the tune of, “Thanks, but…”
As a writer, I’ve received tons of these. I keep them in a folder on my computer. I don’t particularly hate them. Some of them have stopped me from preemptively publishing work that wasn’t ready for the world. Actually, you know what? I could list a number of reasons as to why I’m the reason the work didn’t get accepted: I didn’t write it well enough; I didn’t edit enough; it wasn’t this or it wasn’t that. But, that’s not completely fair.
Here’s why it’s not fair: as an editor, I’m privileged to read more submissions than I can count. For every 100 submissions I review, I’d be surprised to find maybe five that are what most would consider to be “poorly written.” At the level of the literary magazine, it just isn't typical. In fact, there are probably more than a dozen reasons why we send a rejection letter from Loud Coffee Press and almost none of them involve, “the writing was poor.”
Rather, here’s why we typically send out rejections:
The piece doesn’t match the tone of the journal or the issue. For example, we’re not into writing about hardcore themes like killing or heavy political undertones. We have pretty thick skins and senses of humor, but if we’re offended, it’s a no-go.
The theming is too obvious. While we’re a music and coffee-themed magazine, we appreciate subtlety around those themes. How do they weave into the fabric of life?
We’ve already accepted a bunch of poems for an issue, so now we’re looking for more flash fiction, or vice-versa! We keep our issues to around 12 - 15 pieces max, so space is always at a premium, and we try to balance what we present.
We may love it. It may be a fantastic piece of writing. But, there’s something about it that doesn’t feel right for LCP. We can’t quite always put our finger on it, as much as we’d love to. We’re a little quirky. Maybe the piece isn’t. That doesn’t mean we aren’t rooting for it to show up in print somewhere else!
It's out of season. We don't usually print Christmas poems in the spring issue, for example.
We read it when we we're tired. This is not great to admit, and we know when we’re doing this. We try not to do this, and we go back and re-read when this happens. Rule of thumb: if one of us is tired, cranky, or irritable, stop reading right now.
We couldn’t grasp the meaning. I read, Fred reads, we both re-read it and we still have no idea what it’s remotely about. That doesn’t mean it’s not beautifully written; we simply prefer to get lost in a piece in a different way.
Submissions that don’t adhere to the submission guidelines don’t get a ton of love from us. We’re pretty lenient when it comes to a wrong file type, etc., and we don’t even ask for a cover letter! But, when we ask for a max of three poems and 12 pieces come rolling in, we don’t read past the first three.
I’m sure there’s more, but these are the ones popping into my tired brain. We’re the first to admit that we’re not perfect, and we’ve probably passed on something that would have worked phenomenally well for us. Accidentally, of course.
So, when I open a letter that begins with, “Thanks, but…,” my stomach swirls a lot less nowadays. No one likes rejection, but it’s not always about being better or worse. It’s about someone’s opinion on fit.
This, dear reader, is why I no longer despair when the inevitable "Not today, Submission," hits my inbox. Maybe it's me, but in all likelihood, I take comfort in assuming I wasn't to someone's taste for another reason, and probably one of the above. I'm asking you to do the same. Look, I know it's not easy. We all want the fast, glittery road to success.
My wonderful friend, author B.K. Clark (Instagram: @bkclarkauthor) had this to say about picking yourself back up after rejection:
“Bouncing back isn’t easy when the rejection is one that you had your heart and hopes set on. But in this field it will 100% happen because writing is completely subjective. You could write the BEST novel and still someone will hate it.
To bounce back you need a safety net of people in your corner because you will absolutely feel like a failure and want to quit. Those people won’t let you. Those people will send you messages, phone calls, or hand you a beer and order pizza. They’ll sit down and say, ‘what’s next,’ because quitting isn’t an option.
You keep moving forward, sometimes by sheer will alone. You have to want it. REALLY want it.
Honestly, when I’ve gone through bad rejections and felt my worst, after the emotions calm, I found that the experience itself forced me to do better; be better.
You have to be willing to go through the fire to really grow as a writer… and you need a thick skin because rejections are inevitable.”
My goodness, B.K. When you're right, you're right.
Back to that sunny season that's right around the corner: remember that it always comes back around.
Cheers, love, and rock fingers,
Have you experienced the rejection swirlies? Tell us by clicking on the heart, or sharing your stories of rejection below! Or, share a virtual cuppa with us...