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Submitting is Worse than Online Dating and Applying to College

some of these things

Reading Between the Lines (in the Ivy League)

As with trolling online dating profiles, you’re looking for the best.

You do not want to hitch the future of your essays to any old mag.

There are two Ivy League pubs if you write essays: Creative Nonfiction (out of University of Pittsburgh) and Fourth Genre (out of Michigan State U).

But sending work everywhere is a giant guessing game.

You grab a copy of a journal you want to be in at AWP, or you send for one (they usually sell old copies for less money, but new copies more accurately reflect the current editorial sensibility, which you’ll want to obsess over). Sometimes you subscribe by entering your work in a journal’s contest, killing two birds with one $20 bill. You were going to subscribe to the journal anyway, right? Why not?

Then, as if you’re scanning MartiniGuy1351′s profile to see if he’s alluding to James Bond or really a fan of gin, you wonder if placing this affecting, tragic poem about the death of a bumblebee before a humorous essay by Roxane Gay means something about the editor’s latent feelings about women. You worry that the journal is saying it’s 6′ 5″ when really it’s 5′ 11″, and hoping to hell you don’t notice, or doesn’t care if you do, or is a psychopath who will hack you to pieces with a set of rib cutters.

And there’s so. Much. Help.

Like when you’re sixteen and all you really care about is whether Mom will lend you her car on Friday so you can do something she believes will endanger your sobriety or virginity or both, and you start getting piles and piles of glossy college catalogs in the mail, which you think about using to paper the bathroom in order to communicate to your parents, guidance counselors, and all those smiling, encouraging teachers how little you actually care; there is no end to the information and advice about sending work to lit mags.

Your mentors will offer advice.

So will the internet. And your rejections, sometimes.

So will your peers, the only other people on this whole planet who get you because your brain works like a writer’s and most of the time people stare at you like you’re barmy whenever whatever is coming out of your mouth. Because you process not like a person who feels a part of the world, but like an artist, who FEELS, and is not always sure she is a person at all.

But you will do it anyway. You’ll slog through the piles of words on pages, you will shave your essays and stories by thousands of words because of a fascist limit. You will have eighteen files apiece on your hard drive, with titles in a code you only sometimes remember inventing. Since you’re only using it right part of the time, it is useless except to remind you how unlovable your words are to everyone besides you.

You will click endlessly after getting the newsletter from The Review Review, you will make a spreadsheet. A spreadsheet! You will consult the spreadsheet whenever you receive rejection. You will learn to categorize rejections: soft, hard, welcoming, fuck off.

You will seek affirmation and encouragement from others. You will share Facebook private messages with other writers. But there is shame in rejection, so you won’t talk about it.

But you should. Because it helps. Rejection’s part of the thing we all do.

So let’s do this together, you and I.

So far this submitting season, I’ve received rejections from Slab Magazine and from The Baltimore Review. I’m certain more will follow. And if one or two do not, maybe you will celebrate with me.

Share your rejections or thoughts in the comments. I’m thinking about starting a Facebook group to celebrate rejection as part of the process, for solidarity, and to share the rarer joy of acceptance.

5 comments on “Submitting is Worse than Online Dating and Applying to College

  1. I’m not a writer, but I got rejected from a summer internship because our schedules didn’t match up perfectly. My feelings were hurt even though I tried not to care. Not everyone gets how great I am, you know?

    • I hear you, totally. “My feelings were hurt even though I tried not to care.” After a consistent stream of getting rejected, your feelings DO stop hurting, sort of. It’s like a numb, low burn instead of a sharp stab. And if you’re an obsessed overachieving psychopath like I am, you begin to view these rejections as opportunities to prove that you’re as awesome as you know you are… that not only do some people not get it, they are wrong not to get it. RAWR!!!

  2. This is so great, April. I’m with ya, babe. Okay, so here goes. This month I’ve been rejected by Ninth Letter and The Journal. And we’re only eleven days in, so stay tuned for updates. I have a few lit mags that have been sitting on my pieces (probably literally) for over SIX MONTHS! They have to respond at some point. Don’t they? xo

    • I don’t KNOW if they have to?? I sent an essay to Creative Nonfiction’s anthology now four months ago. I feel like sometimes they hide a little “we will only contact those authors whose work we have accepted” clause somewhere. I like the journals that give an idea of the delay between submission and response. I made a column for it in my spreadsheet. :-) I don’t know Ninth Letter or The Journal. I’ll go look ‘em up! I recently learned about literarymama.com, and have been writing an essay specifically FOR them in my head the last day or so.

  3. Creative Nonfiction has a long turnaround. Most mags, though, do respond, or at least claim they do. I’ve been a reader for a lit mag, so I have some sympathy for the workload, but I don’t think it’s fair to writers to let their pieces sit more than four months.

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