“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?

 

MFA Update: Residency Reflections

Sunsets, snow, and mountains…that’s right, I had another residency, this time in the deep arctic blast. Now I’ve attended two out of four residencies, and while I enjoyed myself immensely and am chomping at the bit to get into my work for the semester (and I already have), it was also a reminder of how fast the time passes. With two residencies down, I have only two more to go. Out of “the bubble,” that space we refer to where we’re in a safe space where all of us value the craft of writing and share pieces of ourselves, here are my reflections as a second-semester MFA student.

Peer Workshops

Something special happened in my peer workshop group–not that it didn’t in June, but I’m not writing about June’s residency right now. Not only did we find a way to help each other with our stories, but we also laughed together. There were only three people in my workshop who I felt I knew–two other women in my cohort and a woman from the class ahead of mine whom I befriended last residency.

There were three other students I didn’t get the chance to get to know last June, and it was fantastic learning about them. One of them kept astonishing me with an openness and personal courage that is nothing short of inspiring. Then, there were two students from the incoming cohort. Both great writers, and great people.

Finally, what made this group so special was the pair of mentors facilitating the twelve hours we spent together. I’m not going to name drop, but they’re pretty amazing and so is their fiction. Their insights, good humor, and approachable manner made it a joy to learn to from them.

Thanks to the feedback I received from both of them and my peers, I have decided to make a drastic change to my thesis novel that will solve the pacing issues; scenes were moving too rapidly and they confirmed for me that as readers, they didn’t have the time to get settled in them. They also confirmed that my proposed changes would solve this issue. I don’t want to get into too much detail because I don’t want to give anything away…but suffice to say instead of covering a 65-year lifespan, my novel will cover about 5-6 months.

Craft & Elective Workshops

In addition to peer workshops, part of the residency curriculum features craft and elective workshops. The craft workshops were fun and helpful. Some of the information was something I’d learned before, but I really enjoyed hearing another writer’s take on a subject and letting lessons sink in again. At other times, the information was new and entirely helpful.

Elective workshops I attended (of which we had to choose two) included discussions on the unreliable narrator, an agent Q&A, and a talk on beginnings by Zia Haider Rahman, who might just be one of the coolest people I’ve had the honor to meet. If I ever had the chance to take more classes from him, I’d jump at the opportunity.

Readings

At each residency, there are several types of readings: nightly faculty readings, nightly student readings, and a special students-only reading on Wednesdays. I won’t say who read what, but there were texts shared that required open hearts to read and listen, and I couldn’t be prouder or more honored to have participated, even as a reader.

For my own readings, I chose a portion of my short story, “Hunger,” and a rap/poem I’d written based on Hamilton: The American Musical. For that one, I got the audience involved, repeating the chorus.

Everything Else

The graduation ceremony for the graduating cohort, the dance party afterwards, the several hours spent in the game room with friends, the night of no water, the visit from the fire department when pipes burst, the tiny snowman we found, the hours chatting with friends and fellow writers, the four hours with my roommate and cohort-mate traveling to and from the hotel, and everything else that goes on residency was so enjoyable that I didn’t want to leave. At least…not until the temps dropped back into the negatives.

My next residency is in five months and two days. I’m so looking forward to jumping back into it, even though it will be my third of four residencies, and I will likely be even more sad to leave.

A New Goal: Story Submissions

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I have been sick as a dog this week. I’ve had a head cold that never made it past my throat and it has wiped me out until today. Part of the problem was that I wasn’t getting any sleep…so I wasn’t getting any better. I try not to take things like NyQuil, but I broke down a few nights ago and took it so that I could catch some zzzz. I’m going to take it tonight, too.

Because I was so under the weather, I missed my goal to submit a short story by the end of November by one day. No biggie–I sent out November’s story to two markets tonight electronically, and will submit it to the third via snail mail tomorrow (as they don’t accept electronic submissions). There were other markets I was interested in for this story, but as they’re currently closed for submissions, I’ll keep them in mind as a backup should the story be rejected by the first three markets.

Here’s my new goal–get ready because it’s coming at you in big, bold letters:

Submit one short story for publication each month.

Admittedly, I’d like to submit one every two weeks, or, if I really had my way, submit one every week. But between my MFA program, my TA work, and freelancing, I think it’s far more realistic to submit one a month. That way if I get sick and am out of fiction-commission for a week, I don’t have to feel bad.

Today is an auspicious day to begin this goal because it was seven years ago today that I got my first fiction publishing credit. A King’s Life, a work of fantasy, was published by Fictitious Magazine on December 1, 2010. After that, I stopped submitting stories for awhile. Then I got back into it during and after my MA program, when I had some success with four more publishing credits and an honorable mention in a contest.

My hope is that by setting this goal, I will consistently submit short fiction for publication and continue to build my readership.

I’m aiming for the stars.

Another important shift in my thinking is that I’m starting with the pro markets first. With a few non-pro markets under my belt so to speak, and a lot more understanding of how to produce quality literary fiction, I’m starting with the big publications. The Paris Review. The New Yorker. AGNI. Publications that I used to think I didn’t have a chance of getting into…now is the time to start striving to get in.

If I get rejected, which I probably will, there are plenty of markets I can submit my work to. But I need to stop thinking my work isn’t good enough, because that becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. Better to aim high and fall than to never jump off the ground to begin with.

What are your writing goals?

If you’re a writer, what do you want to start to accomplish? Where do you see yourself as a writer? Share in the comments section–I’d love to hear from you!