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.
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.