Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Submitting Your Work: Get Mad But Don't Get Even

So you've been looking around for places to submit your work. You check out some samples online, maybe purchase the required "one or two back issues" to determine what the publications you are considering are looking for, and, wow, you find one you really like. They actually publish stories you might have chosen had you been a position to do so. In fact, you are quite certain you have one or more stories in your Word file that will suit them perfectly, but you'll submit them one at a time just to draw out the pleasure.

You carefully proof the piece. Get it into the proper format. Check and re-check to make sure you included the SASE. On the website they mention a possible six month response time, so you settle in for the long haul. After all it takes time to go through all the levels of the process. In the meantime you are definitely considering a subscription after you receive your two contributor copies. It's only fair.

So it comes as quite a shock when you find your SASE in the mailbox just two weeks later. It's an even greater shock when you open it to find a thin rejection. You were so sure this publication was a perfect fit, yet all signs point to your piece never making it past the slush pile.

What do you do next? Unfortunately, many writers get mad and swear off that publication. After all the excitement of reading story after story you really enjoyed, you suddenly decide that the editors must be morons with no taste and that, on second look, the stories they publish really are a lot of drivel.

This is a natural reaction. Somehow we feel like we are "getting even" by withdrawing our financial support from a publication that has "done us wrong." The problem with that is, we're really hurting ourselves. Why? Because if the work being published in that magazine represents what you like to read then it follows that this is also what you would like to write. Meaning, you could gain great benefit from reading and analyzing future issues.

A major mistake many new writers make is to not look closely enough at the work that appears in certain publications. On a broad level the work might resemble what you like to write, but it requires a closer look to analyze the taste of the editors. For example, recently I checked out the website for Tin House. While they do not include entire stories, you can read the first few lines of stories in the current issue. Go there and check it out. 

Do you notice anything? Each story has a very strong, often disturbing, beginning. This may have had something to do with that issue's particular theme, or it may be that Tin House editors would never be interested in a story that started with a detailed description of a rose garden and then a walk up a path to an ivy covered cottage. The only way to know that for sure is to read several issues. 

If your work ends up being rejected by what was heretofore your favorite literary journal, you can get mad at first, sure, but there's no point in trying to get even by refusing to read it ever again. I assure you, the editors won't notice the connection, but you could increase your chances of acceptance by continuing to read that publication and homing in on the nuance that the editors are looking for.

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