Publishing. It is the goal of almost all writers to see their work published. Whether in print, online, or as a dramatic work, having your work recognized is something we all look forward to.
But the submission and rejection cycle can be daunting. Why was my story rejected? Can’t they see it’s brilliant, transformative, and thrilling?
Many writers have an idea that getting published is the ultimate satisfaction, and that once they are published, life will be good, the sun will shine continuously, and they will have no worries.
These days, getting published can be as simple as Xlibris or Amazon’s CreateSpace or Kindle Direct Publishing. Seeing your book in print is easy–but selling it is the difficult chore.
If you decide to submit your work to an established publisher, such as HarperCollins, Random House, or Farrar, Straus and Giroux, or to an agent with the hopes of selling it to a publisher, it can be challenging. For short stories, submitting to top short story markets like The New Yorker or The Atlantic can be heartbreaking. Time after time, you will likely receive a rejection which is confusing or perplexing: “This was not for us.” “We have to pass on this.” “Good luck placing this elsewhere.”
For some markets, the numbers are against you–one recent source estimated the acceptance rate at The Atlantic at 1000:1 and stated they receive over a hundred manuscripts a day. For others, they may have just purchased a story like yours, or they may be full and not taking new work at this time, leading them to reject your (perfectly good) story.
What do to? First, consider submissions and rejections as a process, not as an end goal. If you are any good as a writer, you’re developing your skills, building your writing muscles, and learning from every source available. Rejections are feedback. If you’re lucky to get a personal note, you have an opportunity to learn what could be improved in the story. Rather than saying, “I have to sell this story,” consider saying instead, “Perhaps this story wasn’t right for the market yet–I’ll keep working on my next story.”
Second, believe in your own work. Famously, Stephen King’s Carrie was rejected at least 30 times, Gone with the Wind 38 times, and Chicken Soup for the Soul 138 times. There are even books devoted to the subject of famous rejections! If you’re writing something new, in a fresh voice, it may be too early for the market–or you may be at the lead of a developing market trend. Do your best work, always your best work, even if it is not yet recognized with acceptance at a publisher or by an agent.
Finally, know the basics of submissions and rejections. There are lots of websites and published material on how to submit, what to expect, and what to do when rejected. The most important thing is that you continue to express your voice, continue to speak your truth, and continue to improve your craft.
Theresa Barker is the author of two unpublished novels; she has collected over forty rejections on her novel-length work. She has published short stories in small science fiction magazines. She is currently pursuing her Masters of Fine Art in Creative Writing at Goddard College and is writing an experimental magic realism novel. >> Hire Theresa on Writer.ly here.