If you follow along, you know I’m pretty methodical about how I submit my short stories to journals. (If you haven’t been following along, check out this post to get up to speed.) Well, the submission window opens today for a whole bunch of my favorite journals. Continue Reading →
I was looking at my journal submission spreadsheet the other day. I got another rejection (ug) and so I was checking to see where to send my story next.
I’ve blogged before about how I try to see rejection as getting closer to acceptance, but as I scrolled down the list of places I’ve submitted to over the past few months, it occurred to me that almost every time I send my story out I pay a fee.
Reading fees are modest, yes, but they do add up. In my experience, they fall somewhere between $10-15, with the average closer to $12. So far, I’ve submitted my most recent story 30 times. That’s about $360 in submission fees, give or take.
Considering that, when the story is finally published (as I’m confident it will be), payment will be in copies, the money I’m spending in pursuit of publication is not money that will be recouped. So what am I getting for my money?
The word that comes to mind is encouragement. Especially given that my most recent short story is an excerpt from the novel that I’m working on, having a journal publish it would be so encouraging.
There is also the slim, but real, chance that an agent might see my story and be interested in seeing more from me. That would be the best possible income.
But how much is that worth to me?
I can think of a lot of ways I could spend $1,000. None of them would get me an agent, but they are all better than pissing money away. If I simply want to throw money around, a weekend in Vegas would be a lot more fun.
I need to think seriously about the balance between cost and reward here. Maybe there are grants available for submission fees. Or maybe I should be submitting to contests with prizes instead of literary journals. Any writers out there have some wisdom on this one? I would love to hear it.
This is what I used to look like when I got a rejection letter.
But it has gotten better.
These days, every time I get a rejection letter, I also get a high-five from my husband.
Last week, at the dinner table, I shared with the family that I got two rejection letters in one day. My husband held up his hand and I gave it a slap.
My daughter, who is old enough now to understand that rejection is supposed to be a bad thing, asked why we were celebrating. We told her what we always tell each other: if you’re not getting rejected, you’re not putting yourself out there enough.
It’s not that I’m happy about being rejected. Not at all. What I celebrate is that fact that I’m still in the game. I high-five because the minute I got each of those rejections I sent out my story to another journal. My husband is cheering me on in my relentless pursuit of publication.
So if you hate rejection (because who doesn’t) I invite you to make use of my two-step response.
- Send your story/query to the next journal/agent on your list immediately. (If you don’t already know who is next on your list, check out my Submission Spreadsheet. You should always know what’s next.)
- Find someone to give you a high-five. This can be via text, over the phone, or at dinner that night, but find someone to tell you that you’re doing an awesome job. Because you are. You’re fighting the fight. This is what it is to be a writer.
These two steps won’t do anything to mute the pain of rejection, but they will hopefully keep you from quitting. As a teacher of mine once said, “There are two kinds of writers: those who get published, and those who quit.”
Rejection is part of being a writer. If you’re not getting rejected, you’re not submitting enough, and I haven’t been rejected in years.
For a long time I didn’t submit any short stories to journals because I was working on my novel, and it just isn’t done yet. But recently I pulled about twenty pages from the middle of my novel and tweaked them to stand on their own as a short story, because it’s time to get back in the game. My thinking is that if I can get those pages published it will not only be super encouraging, it might also land my writing on the coffee table of an agent or two.
The challenge of submitting is that it’s difficult to know where to start. If my goal is to be published in a journal that an agent might actually read, I have to aim high. The last time I really submitted anything I focused on local journals, as most of my stories are LA-based, and at that point I was a student, happy to have my work published anywhere, but at this point, I feel I’ve grown a lot as a writer. I have this crazy idea that I’ve actually become quite good at my craft, and to test that idea, I am only submitting to journals that receive a lot of submissions. I want to see if I’m the cream that rises, or the low-fat milk that gets left behind.
So I set up a spreadsheet. You can view it by clicking here. If you’d like to use it, which you are absolutely welcome to do, you will have to either download it, or copy it to your own drive. You won’t be able to edit it. I didn’t want people forgetting to copy it to their own folders and accidentally sharing their entire submission history, but I do welcome comments, if you have any thoughts on how it could be better.
Here’s how I use it:
- I spend a shit-ton of time making sure my story is ready. I get feedback from as many people as I can, I re-write, and edit until it’s as good as I can make it.
- Then, I go to the Lit Mags page of the Poets & Writers website
- I use all the filter options (including the advanced options) to set up a search. For me, that is genre: fiction, sub genre: lit fiction, format: print, payment: any
- I scroll through, page by page, looking for journal names that I recognize
- When I see one, I click to view details
- I use those details to fill in columns B-F of my spreadsheet. NOTE: for circulation enter the higher number that is listed (so if P&W lists circulation as 2,500-5,000, enter 5,000)
- Once I’ve entered details for every journal that is at all interesting, I do a data sort based on circulation, column D. In case you’re new to this: click in column D, select all, click on “data” up at the top, and choose the first option to “sort sheet by column D, A-Z.”
- You will notice that there is also a column (A) for rank. That column is my acknowledgement that size isn’t everything. Sometimes certain journals rank high for me because I know an editor there, or I know that an agent I’m interested in reads that journal. So after I’ve sorted for column D, I go through and add ranks. I don’t bother ranking 1-20. I use tiers. I rank things either 1, 2, or 3. So a journal that has a smaller circulation may still get a 1.
- Then I resort for column A.
- At that point I have my game plan. I submit to the top five journals on my list, noting the date I sent in my submissions.
Then, if I’m being honest, I am overcome with anxiety, and I spend a week obsessing over my final draft, editing it for stupid, tiny things (was she on the bus or in the bus?). Then, when I’m done obsessing, I submit to the next five journals on the list.
And then the waiting begins. But waiting for the inevitable rejections (because there will be rejections), seems easier when I have a game plan. When a rejection comes in I will simply pull up my handy spreadsheet, add “PASS” to column H, and send the story to the next journal on my list. (I always use PASS. Because the truth is, not every rejection is negative commentary on my writing. Sometimes a story just isn’t a good fit. PASS is just a way of being nice to myself. )
This method has worked for me in the past. True, I am aiming higher this time, so if I get through my list and my story hasn’t been accepted, I will have to take a hard look at where I’m at. I guess at that point, I will either have to submit to my lower tier of journals, or scrap this story, write a better one, and try again. I’m not sure what I’ll do. I haven’t gotten any responses yet, so it’s a big fat mystery so far.
Keep in mind, too, that this is an investment. Ten journals, at $10-15 a submission, is going to cost a bit of cash, so don’t shoot yourself in the foot by making stupid mistakes. As an associate editor for a small journal here in Southern California, I have learned a few things by sorting through the slush pile:
- Always include a cover letter. It doesn’t have to be long, just a few sentences saying that you are writing to submit your short story, “title here,” to “journal name here.” Get the name of the journal right.
- Take a minute to look online at the masthead for the journal and address your cover letter to the editor by name.
- Don’t tell them how great your story is. That can only count against you.
- Be patient. It takes months to hear back. In fact, a quick response is almost always going to be a no, so if it takes a while, you can tell yourself that your piece has made it into the second or third round of reading, which is great.
Lastly, there is the question of reading the journals you plan to submit to. This is always a good idea, and even more so if you’re on a tight budget. You want to make sure that your work is appropriate for the journal you’re submitting to, or else you’re just throwing money away. Of course, if you have money to throw away, go crazy. I can’t imagine a journal that wouldn’t happily take your cash in exchange for a rejection letter.
Above all – don’t give up. Keep writing, keep submitting. The only difference between a successful writer and an unsuccessful writer is that the successful one never gives up.
If you follow my blog, you’ve likely noticed that I’ve only been posting once a week as of late, instead of maintaining my regular twice a-week schedule.
I assure you, it’s not the start of a long, downward slide into a static webpage, but rather the outward sign of me taking things easy for a bit while I wait for feedback on my most recent draft of the novel.
When I finished the last version and handed it off to a few trusted friends, I really just needed to rest. I needed to sleep in past my 5am writing date, and go to a few of my girl’s soccer games on the weekend (instead of locking myself up to write, write, write). That was early April, and I told myself then that I would not stress about writing until after my birthday.
Well guess what. I am now officially in my late thirties (though I maintain that 36 is late-mid thirties), and it’s time to get back to it. I already got feedback from two of my readers, and I’m waiting on word from four more. It’s time to reach out and set up dates for feedback sessions.
In the meantime, I got a lovely rejection letter for my most recent short story submission yesterday. It’s rare that editors take the time to actually send notes, and she was very flattering – saying how she really liked it, but it was a little too grounded in reality for their publication (which surprised me, as I submitted to them because I thought the journal would be a good match for my story) – but it was a rejection nonetheless.
Oh well, onward and upward. I’ve already sent the story to the next journal on my list. I’m still in my top ten, so I’m not feeling too down about it.
An acceptance letter would certainly be a nice ego boost as I head into the next round of work on the novel.
I heard someone say once that you can tell a lot about any given line of work by the verbs used to describe how people find it. Actors audition, sales clerks apply, executives are head-hunted, and writers submit.
This weekend, I wrapped up a short story that I plan to submit to journals. It’s a story I wrote in grad school, and as soon as it was done I started sending it out to the best of the best journals (or at least my favorites): AGNI, Glimmer Train, One Story, and more. Sadly, the story wasn’t ready. Back then I had this attitude of “good enough.” I knew there were holes in the narrative, but I figured no one else would notice. Rookie mistake.
After 32 rejections I stopped submitting it and put it aside for a while.
Then, a couple weeks ago, when I decided to take a break from the novel, I went back to it. What I’ve learned, since I last worked on it, is that readers will notice holes that I as the writer will never see. So I reworked it until I honestly thought it was perfect, then I had my writing group review it, patched up the holes they found, then I had my guy take one last pass, and was excited when he only had a couple minor notes.
So tonight I will begin the submission process again. Sadly, I have ruined any shot of acceptance at the fancier journals, as they have already rejected it, but the good news is there are hundreds, if not thousands, of journals out there. By searching online I have found another 30 that seem to be good matches for my particular narrative – lovely journals, with totally respectable distributions. I’m going to follow the same process I did last time. I will submit to the top five on my list, then, as rejections come in, as rejections will, I will just send it out to the next journal on the list.
If I get through another 30 submissions without an acceptance, well, then, I’ll have to do some serious reassessing. And I think that’s why the word submission seems so apt. This process feels like groveling. Like crawling forward on my knees with pages in my out-stretched hands, head lowered.
Well, here goes nothing.
Back in September my agent began sending out the proposal I wrote for a non-fiction book about Monsanto. It was titled “Nonsanto” and it was all about my attempts to avoid Monsanto products for a whole month last March.
After waiting a few weeks, we received the nicest rejections. Seriously, I had prepared myself for a beating, given everything that I’ve heard about how harsh the publishing world can be, but these publishers were really quite nice. Here are a few excerpts:
“I’m attracted to this idea and to April Davila, who has such a nice presence on the page….”
“The author has a great voice and I really enjoyed reading through it…”
and my personal favorite:
“Davila obviously has a very bright future ahead of her, and I have no doubt her experience as a scientist will give her a unique perspective to take on this subject from all angles….”
But then, the ellipses were shortly followed by the reason they couldn’t take on the book. Some had similar projects on their slates already, and some where weary of the “Month/year of” type book. It seems to be the general consensus of the publishing industry that “Eat, Pray, Love,” was the pinnacle of the “Month/year of” books and that they’re on the down swing from here on out.
So my agent and I went back to the drawing board and re-conceived the idea for the book. On Monday I sent her the revised version of the proposal now titled “Monsanto: How a company you’ve never heard of controls what you eat, drink and wear.”
Though loosely based on my experiences last year, it’s a much more in depth look at the evolution of the company, and how it has come to dominate our food supply.
Anyhow, my agent is reading the version over and I am waiting to hear her thoughts. In the meantime, this is a perfect time to sneak in a few hours with my fiction.
Fingers crossed for the little guy to take a long nap today.