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A Few Gripes, If You Please…

So, as anyone knows who’s crazy enough to want to be a writer, a huge part of the writer’s life is rejection, rejection, rejection. I’m a pragmatic person who accepts this as part of the game, although I of course still dream big. Tin House has been looking at a story of mine for well over a year. Does that mean I have a chance at being the .0001 percent of writers they pull unsolicited from the slush pile, or are they just so backlogged they haven’t gotten around to rejecting me yet? Most likely the latter is true, but I’m staying optimistic for now with a grain of salt so I won’t be too let down when that rejection letter (inevitably) comes.

Yes, rejection is the name of the game to an extreme degree really, as I’m reminded every time I log into Duotrope. My acceptance rate is currently at 2% and here’s what they tell me:

Congratulations! Your acceptance ratio is higher than the average for members who have submitted to the same markets.

Sheesh. That is indeed a low number. But I still don’t think it really makes sense to just carpet bomb any and every magazine with my stories. Like a good writer should, I try my best to do my research and, to be honest, it’s…frustrating.

Although nearly every literary magazine says they are “open to anything, as long as it’s well written and compelling” the truth is a high percentage of what I see published is navel gazing realism about the American experience. “This is what it’s like to be an American (fill in the blank).” My feeling is a lot of the time the writers don’t even realize they are doing this and can I really blame them? The US is where they live. Why wouldn’t they consider life there as “life, period”?

Some of these stories are still moving and beautifully written of course, but when you’re writing outside of the culture, a lot of them seem ultimately repetitive and boring. Of course, I could also write “This is what it’s like to be an American expat” stories, but that just doesn’t interest me.

A lot of the more zany online magazines tend to primarily publish flash fiction. Ok, this is going to make me sound like a total bitch but 9 times out of 10 flash fiction just seems like lazy writing. Sure, you can string together a page or two of intriguing sentences, sketches of weird characters and vivid images, but how often is that really a story? For me, most flash fiction is just an unsatisfying tidbit.

Oh geez, listen to Rebeccah gripe and moan.

Part of the problem is that I haven’t gotten a positive rejection in a while. No “your story made it far into the editing process” or “sorry, but please send us more of your stories”. Just a whole lot of silence combined with the occasional “thanks, but no thanks. Your story is not for us.”

Two recent rejections I got particularly stung. West Branch wrote,

“We read every story, poem, and essay submitted to us carefully, and we delight in publishing both established and emerging writers. Unfortunately, we are not able to accept your work for publication at this time.”

which seemed kind of like rubbing salt in a wound (“We delight in publishing emerging writers but, so sorry, that doesn’t include you.”)

I submitted a story to Ploughshares Emerging Writers contest because Carmen Maria Machado was the judge and I thought my story would be right up her alley. But, of course, she never even got to read it. In their rejection letter, Ploughshares told me they had received well over 1000 submissions and that their “trained screeners” had filtered out the best stories and mine was not among them.

The “trainer screeners” bit irked me a little for sure. I mean, I realize they may have written that to stop some ego bruised writer from sending them an inflammatory e-mail claiming that this is obviously the fault of a clueless undergraduate intern, otherwise their genius would have been immediately recognized. But sheesh, trained screeners. The message here can also easily be interpreted as “our seasoned professionals have determined your story is frankly not worth Machado’s time.”

Speaking of Machado, I really need to stop following her on instagram, as well as several other literary darlings (I wrote a post a while ago bashing social media, but I have sense learned that instagram is kind of fun). They’re always posting pictures of amazing residencies they went on or mentioning recent awards and accolades. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t blame them in any way, and I definitely find it interesting to get a glimpse into their lives. Social media is just what most writers (and people) do these days. Hell, keeping an up-to-date twitter and instagram feed might even be a stipulation in their contract with their publisher.

The problem is these kinds of up dates ultimately make people like me feel bad. I know it’s a shiny version of reality, that they also have their struggles and disappointments like everyone does, but the message still seems to be, “These are the anointed ones with charmed lives whose work is applauded and no, you are not one of them.” Ugh. Then again, that’s pretty much the whole point of social media to begin with: to make us feel bad in comparison to others. Rebecca Makkai sums it up well here (no one I follow is an ass like the guy she describes, but I’m sure those guys are also out there.)

Although I’d never quite writing, sometimes I wonder if I should do a submission process detox and just not send anything out for a good while. Maybe it would help me concentrate on my novel in a deeper way. Maybe it’s fear that’s getting in the way, the (possibly very real) fear that if I don’t have a string of published stories no agent or publisher would even bother looking at my manuscript no matter how good it is.

Sigh…What I am is a girl seriously in need of a lucky break.

My mantra these days is, “You’ll never make it. Your stories/novel will never be published and no one will ever care.” Although that sounds depressing, it actually has the opposite effect: it reminds me that it’s the writing that matters, not this bizarre, lonely, soul-crushing business of trying to get people to stand up and notice, of focusing too much on the at times seemingly rigged rat race of getting published.

If I can remember that, I’ll be much better off for sure.


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