Not Accepted: On Coping with Rejections

It is a fact commonly accepted that all writers, at some point in their careers (but especially in the beginning), must face the bitter sting of rejection.

When I first began submitting, a rejection had the power to rock my world and literally ruin my day.  I still remember receiving my third and fourth rejections: they arrived within minutes of each other while I was on vacation in Maine.  Fun!  (Not. I lay on the bed and cried.)

Now, 95+ rejections in (with 75 of those rejections received in the last 2 years), getting a rejection is like getting a pimple: it’s sure disappointing that it keeps happening, but I’m pretty sure I’ll survive.

I began taking the act of submitting seriously about five years ago; from then until now, I’ve developed and appropriated a few strategies that have helped me get over being rejected, and I shall now impart this questionable wisdom to you.

A rejection doesn’t mean they hate you.  When a faceless entity behind an email is saying no to your work, it’s easy to feel like you are being told that you, as an entity, are not good enough, that you’re a failure as a human being, and, by the way, you smell like hot garbage.

I learned how to stop taking rejections so personally by accident, when Carlea Holl-Jensen invited me to co-edit The Golden Key.   When we were reading for Issue 7, I hated administering the seal of rejection.  I didn’t want the author to feel like we were rejecting them as people or writers just because a piece wasn’t a good fit for us; in fact, I wanted every success for them.  As I fretted over the way a rejection might make an author feel, I realized I was living a contradictory duality: as a writer, I internalized rejections and took them personally, while as an editor, I wanted every success for writers whose work we did not accept.  As soon as I understood that I was approaching the process of rejecting with compassion and empathy, I knew that I had to interpret rejections I received in the same way.  While I can’t presume to know how other editors approach rejection, assuming that they do so with a measure of compassion has certainly lessened rejection’s emotional blow.

Submit A LOT.  My friend and fellow writer Annette shared Kim Liao’s wonderful piece on aiming for 100 rejections a year with our writing group, and this piece has subsequently changed my approach to submissions and my thinking about rejections.  In her article, Liao recommends striving for 100 rejections per year, rather than aiming for a certain number of acceptances.  As she says, “If I had gone into last year shooting for five acceptances, it would have felt way too ambitious. I would have approached submitting timidly, or not taken chances on big name journals or competitive fellowships.”  Acceptances are unpredictable; rejections? Psh, those things are a dime a dozen.

By aiming for 100 rejections, you are of course setting yourself the subtle goal of submitting a lot, which means you’ve written a lot, revised a lot, and ultimately grown as a writer.  I can also totally vouch for Liao when she says, “Since I’ve started aiming for rejections, not acceptances, I no longer dread submitting. I don’t flinch (much) when I receive inevitable form rejection emails. Instead of tucking my story or essay apologetically into a bottle and desperately casting it out to sea, I launch determined air raids of submission grenades, five or ten at a time. I wait for the rejections, line up my next tier of journals, and submit again.”

Revenge submit!  This is my own personal favorite method.  Nothing says I’ll show themlike taking that freshly rejected story and shipping it off to another venue! Work your way through your submission tiers, pausing to re-evaluate the strength of your story after about 10 rejections or so.  I’ve had a story accepted with as few as 0 rejections and as many as 12. The rush of revenge submitting will help you get over any rejection discouragement you may be feeling.

And finally, perhaps my simplest bit of advice:

Say “Not Accepted” instead of “Rejected.”  Rejection is a bit of a head game, but you’ve got a tool you can use in your favor: language.  In my excel spreadsheet, where I record all of my submissions data, I mark rejected submissions as “Not Accepted.”  That tweak in the language reminds me that this one piece was not a good fit for one particular magazine at one specific moment in time.  “Not Accepted” is not a hard no; “Not Accepted” means not now or not yet.  “Not Accepted” means keep going.

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Read Weird Podcast, Episode 01: “Dinner” by Amelia Gray

I am SO EXCITED to share that my wonderful friend, co-editor, and weird aficionado Carlea Holl-Jensen and I have begun a new venture into PODCAST LAND!!! We’re enjoying ourselves tremendously, and we hope you will too!

Read Weird

Welcome to the first episode of the Read Weird podcast! Join us every other week for a conversation about writing, reading, and teaching weird and experimental fiction.

In this episode, we talk about our philosophy of weirdness, discuss the short story “Dinner” by Amelia Gray, and recount Carlea’s formative experience reading Aimee Bender’s The Girl in the Flammable Skirt.

Subscribe for fortnightly episodes of Read Weird via iTunes or Stitcher.  For more notes on this episode, see below. Stay weird!

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Transparency: A Stance

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about transparency in the writing world.  Most of my friends are writers, and even though we’re all at various stages of our careers, we still have the same questions: what next?  Am I doing this right?  How do I get over there, where the books get published and the people get paid–at least a little bit–to write?

First, let me take something off the table for this discussion: the idea that writing is done as a thing in and of itself, with only the writer herself as the audience.  For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume that the most important thing for a writer to do is write, but also that writers want to publish.  This post does not privilege one way of being a writer over another, but for the sake of this discussion, this post will hold the aforementioned assumptions.

As a person who is interested in pursuing writing as a career, I am inclined toward the idea of publishing.  It seems that many writers follow this trajectory: submit, get rejected; submit, get rejected, get your first acceptance.  Submit, continue to get rejected, get some personal rejections, get published occasionally.  And then…what?  How does one cross over from the occasional publication to having the holy grail, a full blown PUBLISHED BOOK?  My train of knowledge breaks down here.

In a world so subjective as the arts, I know there is no clear-cut answer as to how one gets a book published; presumably one writes constantly, queries agents and/or publishers, and eventually gets a book accepted. Recently, though, I’ve been irked by what I perceive to be a lack of transparency in the field.  It sometimes seems that a writer becomes an Author with an Agent and a Book overnight.  If you visit a writer’s website, the writer might list “selected publications,” presumably a cultivated sample of the writer’s best, published, available work.  What happens to the earlier publications?  Did the other stories appear in magazines now defunct?  Are authors contractually obligated to take them down?  Are they swept under a rug?  Am I truly meant to believe that a writer’s first publication was in McSweeney’s or The New Yorker?  Though the topic of a writer’s origins might come up in interviews, the specifics have disappeared; what remains is not the data, but rather the narrative arc.

I know there is no single path to any destination, but I also know that I’m a type of person who benefits from the presence of maps, compasses, and signposts.  To become a writer, I majored in English and Creative Writing; when I graduated, I saved my money to attend an MFA program, which to me seemed a logical next step.  When I graduated with an MFA, I entered uncharted waters and became this thing called a “working writer,” whatever that means.

I don’t know the answer to the question of how one moves into the professional writing world.  I’m sure to make a lot of missteps, if I ever “make it” at all.  But in order to rectify what I perceive to be a lack of transparency in the field, I am making a commitment to transparency.  I plan to make available every work I’ve ever had published, rather than providing only a list of selected publications.  I also plan to provide my submission statistics and information about stories I’ve retired, as well as to write posts about my thought process and rationale for any writing-related decisions I ultimately make.  I hope to also include a sort of timeline: I’ll present my origins and trajectory to you, knowing full well that I’m not yet where I want to go, I may not be heading where you want to go, and that I may not achieve my goals.

I’m making this information available not as a way to provide validation to any life choices, or to claim there is any one path to becoming a writer; rather, I wish to share this data in the hopes that others might find this information useful or interesting, and perhaps consider the ways their trajectories have been formed.

Write, submit, and deal with rejections (and the occasional acceptance!).  We all know this part, but it seems like there is so much more information that writers could mine.  Why not make something of all this uncollected, unexamined data?  If we as writers incorporate transparency and information sharing into our philosophy, maybe those of us trying to make our way in the writing world will find the process to be less opaque.  While I doubt this information will create a quantitative how-to guide for writing and publishing, I do believe this data can present interesting narratives and trends we’ve not yet attended to or discovered.  And, if you’re so moved, consider joining your voice and data to the cause of promoting transparency in the writing process.

Things I wish I could say about a newly minted story, but only I’d find them funny

Today I’ve got a story up at Monkeybicycle and I am freaking. OUT. I love, love, love, love Moneybicycle; I even sent them some horrifically bad writing many years ago (speaking of, is there protocol for apologizing to magazines who had to read your shitty work?  Should one send an edible arrangement, or something?).  Anyway, Monkeybicycle publishes some phenomenally weird and formally inventive stuff, and I am so thrilled to be a part of their publication.

In honor of my pure, unadulterated, nervous excitement about this story’s publication, here are four completely inappropriate thoughts I’ve had when I imagine telling people about this particular story:

  • I only do hardcore arts and crafts.
  • This one’s for all you new mothers out there!
  • What do you mean, you’ve never worn your baby before?  I thought you got pregnant just to have a 100% made-from-scratch accessory.
  • Now THAT’S proper stretching technique.

If you’re wondering how the above four sentences could possibly relate, you can find out by reading this story here.

The Puppet Course

So I’ve been a little obsessed by the idea of puppets ever since I read Helen Oyeyemi’s story, “is your blood as red as this?,” for Read Weird’s inaugural book club.  “is your blood as red as this?” was such a weird, engrossing story, that it kicked off a fascination with puppets in literature.  I found myself ordering every intriguing puppet-related book I came across.  I’m waiting for one more book to arrive in the mail; once it does, I’ll submerge myself in this realm of inanimate life.  I imagine strangeness will ensue.

My reading list is as follows:

Kenneth Gross’ Puppet: An Essay on Uncanny Life

In her acknowledgements, Oyeyemi noted one text, and one text only: Puppet: An Essay on Uncanny Life.  Since I still can’t/don’t want to shake “is your blood as red as this?,” I figured I’d (re)trace Oyeyemi’s steps to perhaps determine how Puppet influenced her work.

Aimee Parkison’s The Petals of Your Eyes

Here’s real life proof that one sentence can sell a novel.  I bought this book based on its description alone:

“Kidnapped girls trapped in a remote theater surrounded by mountains and jungle are forced into illegal performances, displayed in cabinets with curiosities, delicate limbs bound by straps, accompanied by dancing puppets fashioned of dead children’s bones.”

If I could, I’d stuff that sentence in my mouth and eat it. I can’t WAIT to read this book.

The Grimscribe’s Puppets

I’m not sure whether to expect literal or metaphorical puppets in this anthology devoted to Thomas Ligotti’s “eerie and essential nightmares.”  Even so, I’m fascinated to see how these stories position themselves in relation to Ligotti’s work.  Also, doesn’t this cover have wonderful visual resonance with Parkison’s!?

Thomas Ligotti’s Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe

Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe

Of course, to appreciate the ways in which the stories in the above anthology reflect puppeteering in its literal or metaphorical forms, I have to turn to the original Grimscribe text.  What the heck is a Grimscribe?  I guess I’ll find out.

Also, I love this idea of a dead dreamer: is such a being not, in fact, a puppet himself?  An inanimate being motivated by some consciousness?

 

And that’s the list, for now!  I’m incredibly eager to see where this dark spiral of a reading course will take me.  If you’ve got any suggestions for seminal puppet texts, please share!

Bring on the Weird

It should come as a surprise to few that friend, colleague, and fellow writer Carlea Holl-Jensen and I feel a strong affinity for all things weird.  We’re especially fond of weird fiction in particular.

Recently, Carlea and I have looked to explore our weird philosophy in the form of a website, readweird.com.  So far, we’ve written about our experiences at AWP 2016 and about our forthcoming Weird Book Club, and we have a lot of great content in the works.

Here’s to bountiful weirdness to come.