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.