Publishing, Writing Life

“Hunger”

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Last semester, I wrote a story titled “Hunger” about the end of life. I took a chance and submitted the story to three top markets that were open at the time:

  • The Paris Review
  • AGNI
  • The New Yorker

I didn’t expect to get an acceptance from any of them, and in fact, have received rejections from the first two. These days, The New Yorker is so inundated that they don’t even guarantee a rejection anymore, form or personal. Rather, they ask that after 90 days, if you haven’t heard from them, you assume a rejection.

That day is tomorrow, and I’ve still heard nothing. It’s pretty safe, I think, to presume a rejection.

The Nature of Rejections

I’m not bothered by this, especially as I didn’t really expect these markets to accept a story from someone they would consider an unknown. Even with the publishing credits I have, I’d be surprised if my story was even read. So, why, you might wonder, did I bother sending it to them?

I think it’s almost as honorable to get a rejection from top markets as it is to get an acceptance because it’s proof that you tried. The trick is not to let rejections bog you down. For the stories I’ve had published, there were at least ten rejections on average before they were accepted.

Editors (and their assistants) might reject a story for a number of reasons:

  • It’s just not strong enough
  • It doesn’t fit their publication
  • They’ve recently published something similar or are planning to soon

None of these reasons are personal–not even the first. I’m going to prove it to you, so sit tight and keep reading.

Your Story Isn’t Strong Enough

“Hunger” is a pretty big tear-jerker, I think. Of course, I’m likely biased considering how close I am to the events of the story, but I’ve been told this by others who are unrelated. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. I haven’t looked at it since late November, but I’m sure I’ve learned new things that I could use to strengthen the text.

And that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Then, I’m going to submit it to another market (or selection of markets depending on who is open for submissions at that time). Would I re-send it to the three markets above that don’t want it? No. Because their rejections are form or presumed, I don’t have the insight to know why “Hunger” didn’t grab their attention. I certainly don’t want a rep for wasting editors’ time–better to move on to other markets.

It Doesn’t Fit Their Publication

Okay, if this is the case, on your own head be it. If you’ve never read a publication you’re submitting to, then you shouldn’t submit to them unless they’re brand new and you have no access to their previous issues. Of course, sometimes it’s prohibitively expensive to get back issues of every publication you want to submit your own work to, but there are forums out there where you can get used copies from other folks.

Learn about what editors want, and then try to send them that. You might not always be on the same page, but don’t leave this up to guesswork.

The Editorial Calendar is Not Your Friend

If a publication has recently published a story just like yours and you missed it, well, that happens. Try to get your hands on more recent back issues if that’s feasible to determine if you’re sending them something fresh.

That said, sometimes stories are set for publication down the line and they’re of a similar topic to yours. The editorial team might not tell you if this is the case, so you might not know until months later you see that a story with the same theme as yours is printed in their publication.

There’s absolutely nothing you can do about this. Sorry, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

Why Bother Submitting to Top Markets?

Why not? No pitchfork mob is going to show up at your door for doing such a thing. Besides, why not take pride in your work? I used to submit to smaller publications first and thought that someday, when I got good enough at writing, I’d be ready to submit to the larger, more well-known publications.

We call that fear, folks. Or at least a lack of confidence.

But here’s the thing–submitting to these publications probably lit a fire under me to make this story as strong as I could possibly make it. As I said, I might be able to strengthen it now, but when I sent it out in November, it was my best quality work. I could not have produced anything stronger with the knowledge and skill I possessed at that time.

You can always submit a story to other markets if it doesn’t get in with the big kids, and you’ll probably have a better chance of acceptance because you aimed high.

What Next?

I had a professor who recommended submitting a rejected story to another market within three days of receiving the rejection. This is a fantastic suggestion that, when I was actively writing and submitting before my MFA, I followed with strict adherence.

Now that I’m in school and working on so many projects, it may take more than three days to revisit “Hunger.” But, I will be submitting it elsewhere until someone accepts it. Some stories just have to be told.

Who Has Rejected Your Work?

If you’re an artist of any kind, you’re probably deeply familiar with rejections. Maybe you’ve received so many that they fill you with pride instead of shame (how it should be). So…who has said no to your work?