Whether you’re submitting to literary magazines, querying your manuscript, or applying to be crowned ruler of the world, you’ve got a tough road ahead of you. There will be heartbreak, betrayal, and disillusionment—and that’s just in the trailer.
Congratulations to Victoria Griffin, runner up in the 2016 Stuff Writers Like Writing Contest with this entry.
- Savor encouraging rejections.
You know the ones: While this piece is not for us, you obviously have tremendous talent. Or even better: We would love to see more work from you. Take those, enjoy them. Don’t stop reading as soon as you see the dreaded unfortunately. Sometimes an encouraging rejection can be your motivator for the next few submissions. It lets you know you’re on the right track.
- Give yourself a fighting chance.
Check the guidelines, people. We’ve all heard it before, but we can all stand hearing it again. If the magazine or agent accepts literary and mainstream, do not send fantasy. If they only publish poetry, do not send fiction. Format your stuff the way they ask. Send them what they ask. If the guidelines say to write your story on a roll of toilet paper and send it by way of giant carrier pigeon then do it! Writers are always struggling with the question of what do editors want? Well, they’ve been kind enough to lay it out for us in the submission guidelines. There’s no reason we shouldn’t follow them. Don’t let your story suffer because you needed to use Calibri instead of Times New Roman. It’s just not worth it.
- Don’t stress about each submission.
I know I mentioned guidelines. Read them, follow them, but don’t get hung up on them. Don’t fret about whether the title is exactly a third of the way down the page or whether your cover letter is spotless. I’m not saying to be careless, but you have to find a balance—one that gets the thing into an editor’s hands. Your work will never be accepted if it’s stuck in an unsent email on your computer, waiting for you to proof it for the twenty-second time. Do your best, and let it go.
- It’s a numbers game.
Nobody will ask about your failures. They ask about your successes. They won’t ask how many rejections you received for those five acceptances. They won’t care whether there were ten or two hundred. But guess what, two hundred submissions will definitely get you more acceptances than ten submissions. Submit submit submit. Most markets accept simultaneous submissions because they know how it works. You have to get your stuff out there. A while back, I decided to commit to a few things: write one word a day, read one page of (unassigned) fiction a day, and submit one piece a day. I have since discarded the stringency of this plan—although it did what I meant it to, started good habits—but I still submit like crazy. Sometimes I feel like I am crazy, or at least a glutton for punishment, when the rejections start rolling in. But here’s what I’ve learned: you pay for each acceptance. You pay with effort. You pay with time. And you pay with rejections. Every so many rejections I receive earn me an acceptance, even if the going rate fluctuates.
- Don’t take it personally.
Yeah, we’ve all heard this one. We roll our eyes when someone gives this advice, and yet it is one of the toughest pieces to master. As a softball player, we talk a lot about the fact that a person’s value is not dependent on her batting average. Obviously, I know that, rationally. If someone walks up to me and asks, “Are you a bad person because you struck out last night?” I’m not going to say yes. But I often feel that way, and the fact that the feeling is not grounded in logic makes that it tougher to combat. As writers, it can be even more difficult. Each piece we write is a part of us, and when an editor rejects it, we feel like they are rejecting us as a person. So next time you see an email in your inbox (Thank you for your submission, but unfortunately…) take a moment to remind yourself that your self-worth is not hooked to that message. You are not a bad person because one editor didn’t absolutely adore your work. Don’t let yourself fall into that trap. If your personal value is at stake every time you send out work, a difficult process becomes impossible.
If you’re not sure whether you need that reminder, say it out loud. Seriously, stand up, take a deep breath, and say, “I am still a good person. Rejection does not change that.” See how it makes you feel. I know it sounds silly, but it’s one of those things that can sneak up on you and get stuck somewhere deep in your mind. Don’t let it.
Real talk: when the Twitter feed is out of sight, and nobody is watching, it’s going to come down to you and the submit button. That’s why, as much as these tips work for me, you have to find your own driving force strong enough to make you press that button and put your heart on the line. You have to find your own reasons and your own strategies to survive it.
Hopefully, something in this article clicked for you. I hope I leave you with one line or one thought that makes it a little bit easier. Because really, that’s all we can hope for as writers—for it to be just a bit easier. I know, and you know, that we would never want it to be easy. We would never sacrifice the thrill that comes with being chosen out of hundreds or thousands for that coveted acceptance.
Just don’t tell the editors that.
This article originally published under the title “Submission Survival Guide” on the author’s website.