Morning Rejection

A quirk of living in the UK and submitting short stories to publications in the US is I tend to get rejected first thing in the morning. Often before I have even got up or had a coffee. The time difference means the rejection emails arrive in the middle of the night and are ready and waiting for me. I wake up, pick up my phone to check the time – because who has bedside clocks any more? – and then instinctively open my emails. You’d think that I’d learn and just put my phone down until later, but I never do.

It can be a pretty galling way to start the day, especially if it was a submission I was feeling particularly hopeful about. Thanks to applications like Duotrope and Submittable it is pretty easy to get a sense of when the response to any particular submission is likely to arrive and so I often find it is in the back of my mind, figuring out roughly when to expect a response, and the absurd hope that comes with a rejection not arriving on the expected day. I know the best way to do it is to submit and then forget about it. But does anyone actually know how to do that?

Getting rejected before getting out of bed has its upsides, I suppose. It is almost certainly the worst thing that will happen that day, so it’s good to get it out of the way. You can spend the day on an upward trajectory of recovering optimism while everyone else passes you, going in the other direction.

A while ago, before I placed any writing with anyone, I had pretty much written off the idea of ever having any success. The plan was to keep writing so that I could organise my own thoughts and figure myself out, and collect rejection slips while I did it. But now, because I’ve had a couple published, the rejections sting a little more than they used to. The hope is a little higher now. Sometimes I compare the stories that have been published to the ones that get rejected over and over and try to work out what the difference is between them. I can’t tell. I have no idea.

Rejection is just a part of this whole process, and it might be the most valuable part. The thing that keeps us humble and doesn’t let us rise too far above ourselves. A steady stream of emails telling you not good enough, not good enough, might be hard to take but it might be building us up in a different way. Like how character is built out of all the hardest things that happen to you. Nothing comes easy and no one owes me anything.

One of the things I tend to do after a rejection is count how many open submissions I still have, like I might have lost that game, but there’s another dozen still in play. I try not to let the rejections get me down, and I have tried for a long time not to write a blog post about it, because I think this is a subject that has been done to death and going on about it doesn’t really do anything especially valuable. It doesn’t help with anything. But it’s part of the writer lifestyle and getting my rejections before I have got out of bed is a pretty stark way to begin a day. A few weeks ago I got one of those first-thing-in-the-morning rejections and it really bummed me out. It ruined my day. I had only made the submission two days previously and I wasn’t expecting a response anywhere near that fast so I didn’t even get to sit with the hope for very long.

So this was how I started my day today, with a rejection from a publication that I was really hopeful about. It didn’t ruin my day quite as badly as it did the last time, but it still stung. Rejections always do. But here is the most consoling thing I ever heard about being rejected. Rejections save you. They save you from showing the world the stories that weren’t good enough, and even if the story was good enough it saves you from putting it somewhere it doesn’t belong, and where people will resent reading it. Every rejection is like a little blessing. Now I just need to find a way to remember that when I’m reading the email.

A Week Where I Spent More Time Submitting Than Writing

I made a lot of new submissions of short stories this week. I had two entered into the same short story contest and neither won, so that freed them up to get sent elsewhere. I know it’s a bad way of doing it but I was so keen on this one prize in particular that I didn’t submit either story anywhere else in the eight months while I was waiting for it to be announced. This isn’t a good way of handling short story submissions and I know it, so now I have sent out a bunch and I’m feeling a lot more professional about the whole endeavor.

I’m trying to be quite strategic about it and targeting my submissions very carefully, while maximising my time and submitting to multiple places at once. I have my list of  about ten journals and magazines that I would particularly like to be published in, and I am going for those first. It’s probably not wildly different from other peoples lists, but it’s good to have so much work out there at once. It still feels a bit like playing the literary lottery. No matter how familiar you are with a particular journal you can never be entirely sure that your story is a good fit. Or even good enough. I have no idea how to evaluate that.

But the submitting has happened and I’m feeling very good about it. It’s also been very helpful that so many places use Submittable, the online submissions management software. I love the ease that it brings to the submissions process, having a journals submissions guidelines so easy to see is fantastic, and there is something pleasing about a list of open submissions. I’ve never felt so organised. The only real downside is the obsessive checking that it has inspired. There is nothing rational about checking on the status of a submission an hour after you made it, but that’s what I found myself doing.

One of the things that I think Submittable has really added is the ease with which you can financially support the publications that you are submitting to. I know there has been a lot of controversy about publications charging reading fees, and how Submittable makes it just as easy for them to charge as it does for us to submit, but on the whole I like the way I have seen publications using it. For example The Lascaux Review has the option of submitting for free, or with a small tip; no pressure, just the option of clicking this button rather than that button. Ambit magazine has a bit at the bottom of its submissions page where you can buy subscriptions or single issues with a note saying that making a purchase absolutely will not affect the outcome of your submission, which is good. I’d be disappointed if it did. But it gave me a very convenient way to grab a copy.

I read a bunch of different posts around the internet about the ethics and legitimacy of publications charging submission fees, and it is a thorny issue. Anything that might inhibit a writer from submitting because they simply can’t afford it would be a shame, but equally the publications need to survive, and I feel good about financially supporting places that I am hoping will support me artistically. But I know that I’m lucky to be able to afford it. I didn’t used to be able to, but while I can I will.

But the obsessive checking it inspires is real. I even checked it once while writing this.