For many writers, submitting work—such as short stories—to various publications is a process of growth. Rarely does a writer’s work get plucked out of the slush pile when they’re first starting out. More often than not new writers are faced with what seems like a never-ending barrage of rejection letters/emails.
These rejections sting at first, and might even make you want to give up, but it does get easier over time. This stage of writing helps you build character as well as your author’s voice. Though, it’s still a very daunting process. And at some point it might seem like you’ll never get published. Well, I’ll be honest with you. There’s a chance you might never get published. Your work can get rejected for numerous reasons, but I’m going to give you the top three. Hopefully after reading this, you fine folks can make some tweaks to your work and finally break through to the other side. Let’s go!
3. You Don’t Follow The Publisher’s Guidelines!
This should be common sense. Follow the damn guidelines of the publication you’re submitting to if you want someone to actually read your work. And I don’t mean “kinda” follow the guidelines, or add some extra things to your cover letter to show what a quirky and unique person you are. If the guidelines say give a “brief” bio, keep that fucker brief!
If the guidelines say to keep your story above and or under a certain word count, do exactly that. The first thing most publications do when sorting through submissions is weed out those idiots who didn’t follow the submission guidelines. What’s the point of going to the trouble of submitting work—and maybe even paying a submission fee—just to blow it by not doing the simple things the publisher asked of you? I’m telling you straight up, put your ego aside and follow the submission guidelines 100%. And before submitting make sure you double, triple, and quadruple check that you did everything correctly. DON’T GET REJECTED BEFORE YOUR WORK EVEN GETS READ!
2. Your Work Doesn’t Start Off With A Bang
I get it. You’re a literary craftsman and your writing is art. Some stories start off with a slow burn and heat up halfway through. This is fine if you’re an established writer, but it’s not always wise to go this route when you’re just starting out. For instance, if you’re submitting a short story to a magazine, you need to hook the reader instantly.
The sad, dirty truth of the literary publishing world is that most of the people tasked with reading submissions aren’t reading the whole things. Especially if it’s a major publication. They simply don’t have the time or manpower to waste on reading every single submission. What they will do, though, is read the first paragraph or if you’re lucky, the first page. They judge your writing style by this small sample and either deem your work to be a dud or worth finishing. So, make sure your first paragraph is fucking amazing. Hell, make your first sentence wild if you can. The goal is to hook the reader immediately because they won’t read ten pages to get to the “good” parts. As a matter of fact, you should take this advice and apply it to all of your work. Readers just don’t have the attentions spans or patience anymore to read a few chapters before things heat up. They want that instant gratification.
1. You Need To Learn To Accept Feedback
If you get rejected during your literary magazine submission odyssey (and you will!), make sure you’re learning from the process. The worst thing you can do is keep trying to hammer a square peg in a round hole. Meaning, if your romantic drama about a deaf librarian who get’s forced into doing porn to pay for her mom’s dialysis treatment has been rejected over ten times, it’s probably time to make some adjustments.
First off, if you’re getting the generic “…your work isn’t what we’re looking for right now.” emails, your story most likely isn’t that good. So take things back to the beginning and try something fresh. Eventually, you’ll start to get real rejection emails where a publisher’s editor (or whomever emails you) gives you feedback on your work and tells you why your work wasn’t a fit for them. These are good. These you can work with and learn from.
The thing is, though, you can’t learn from anything if you let your ego get in the way. You must be willing to listen and even accept this feedback. They don’t have to tell you how you can improve or what was wrong with your story. If they are doing this, it’s because you have something they might want in the future. You’re probably on the cusp of getting published but you have a little bit more to do to get over that hump.
Hopefully this advice helps make the submission process easier for some of you. Sometimes it’s the simplest things we tend to overlook. Once you start making a name for yourself and get some decent writing credits, your work will finally escape the slush pile.
Just a little extra advice: make friends with editors. Talk to people who work at literary publications and try to make friends with them. Because the easiest way to get out of the slush pile is to never go in it in the first place. The more people you know, the better off you’ll be.
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