Rejections: Bugs on the Windshield

Look at Entropy's list, or New Pages, or Review Review's long listing of literary journals. Then there's Duotrope, and Trish Hopkinson's many lists, and BookFox. You'll find places to submit, no problem. New journals pop up to replace those which bit the dust after a year or two. No shortage of possibilities. Most are no-fee, or reasonably priced at three bucks or so. (How the hell does Narrative get any submissions when they charge $20 just to read your stuff?) So you cruise the websites, find journals you like, whittle it down to a few and submit.

Four months later your email has an exciting notice. Re: submission. It's from a lit mag you really, really wanted to get into.

 You learn to scan the short message with the eye of the lizard for the fly. If the word "unfortunately" is in that scan, you've been rejected, no matter what the rest of it says. Usually for reasons of "fit." This is the softer landing pad euphemism for "we don't like your stuff." Wait, maybe not. It goes on to say please submit more of your work in the future. They don't say that to everyone. Maybe.

That means something. And what means even more is when they take the time to say something like, "You've got fans here. Keep submitting. Keep writing. You made it to the final round this time and we want to see more."

That kind of rejection makes it into a file I keep labeled "Inspiration." When I'm feeling, well, rejected, I open the file and see what words of encouragement some of the good guys have jotted.

 I'm old enough to remember paper rejection slips, and opening the SASE to see whether they were good ones or not. Plain "sorry, we can't use it" ones were the hardest to take. Sometimes they'd jot a personal note on the slip. Some journals still require mail-in subs, and I've found two kinds of rejection slips. A famous review sends both kinds and I've gotten a couple of each. One kind is a quick, cold, form. The other has (printed) words added to it: "We'd like to see more of your work." The latter is (almost) cause for elation.

 Considering the number of pubs out there, and the fact that a large percentage of them only accepts 1% to 3% of the many, many submissions they receive (think thousands), to be accepted is an indicator that you're not wasting your time. Or when a paper rejection slip has "Fine bunch of poems" written hastily in ballpoint pen, or "Great little story, but the ending was not quite there."

 All I can say is, when rejections are a little more than rejections, pay attention. You'll soon learn to tell the difference. There will be periods of time when you see them and think, there's another one, like bugs on a windshield on a long summer drive. Fwap. Fwap. Fwap. And they're all one kind, noting the absence of “fit,” all using the word unfortunately.

 You indulge in paranoia. You think who did I piss off in the lit world that they're blackballing me? Or, the interns fell asleep and to make up for lost time, trashed the slush pile and told their editor bosses, all done, anything else before I knock off for the day? Then, out of the blue, one of the emails starts with "We love..." They not only like that piece you thought was pretty damn good, they LOVE it. “…want to publish it in their next edition. Is it still available?”

 Yes it is! Then comes the bizarre reverse-rejection. YOU email THEM, the lit mags where your piece is still hanging fire, that the piece is no longer available. A happy task. Some of them even congratulate you. Great feeling.

 It will happen to you.  What more can I say except keep writing, keep honing, keep crafting away.

 It will happen to you. You'll make it into the exalted 1% to 3%. Celebrate because it ain't every day. And that's the big understatement.

 Love, G

A Pushcart nominee and author of four books, Guinotte Wise's fiction collection Night Train Cold Beer won the H. Palmer Hall Award and his poetry and fiction have appeared in numerous journals including Santa Fe Writers Project, Atticus, The MacGuffin and American Journal of Poetry. Some work is at