My cluttered inbox is full of rejections from literary journals. Rejection is the only way to get anywhere in the writing world. Everyone has been rejected. Everyone. The most successful writers have been rejected A LOT. Stephen King's Carrie was rejected 30 times. A short story I recently had published in Burningword Literary Journal was rejected 13 times before being published. I have one story I'm desperately trying to get published that's been rejected 21 times. Still waiting on that yes...
In Kim Liao's 2016 essay in LitHub, she argued that writers should aim for 100 rejections a year. You'll get a yes eventually. Last year, my work was rejected 111 times. So far this year, I'm at 50. But I also got six acceptances, an honorable mention from a journal I love, a Fiction Prize, and a Pushcart nomination last year. This year, I'm up to four acceptances (not including the regular literacy column I write for a NH paper), a residency at Vermont Studio Center, and making it to the second round of a $50,000 artist grant (I didn't get it, but still felt validated by making the long list).
I've been gathering quite a collection of kind rejections and recommendations to submit more work. A writer friend once told me, "Take those encouraging rejections seriously and, if they ask for more work, send it and send it soon."
Some recent rejections I've gotten:
"Your writing hasn't gone unnoticed, and we recommend you submit more of your work in the near future."
"You can certainly write clean, readable prose, and you can certainly craft a fantastic line. We would encourage you to submit this piece elsewhere, as we may be biased against these sorts of pieces, and if you have any other works that you think would better fit what we're looking for, please resubmit when we reopen for submissions!"
"Super high quality writing here, and we'd love to read more from you in the future!!"
I cherish these emails. They give me hope when a piece is rejected for the tenth (eleventh, twelfth) time and I start to question it completely.
As an editor and reader for a literary journal, I understand the subjectivity of publishing. Sometimes it's as simple as I can't accept ANOTHER eating disorder story. When accepting pieces for A Tether to this World: Mental Health Recovery Stories, an anthology I'm editing, I loved getting excited emails about acceptances, but dreaded sending the rejections. One person whose piece I had accepted responded to my acceptance email about two months after I'd sent it. "I'm sorry," he wrote, "I'm just so used to getting rejections that I assumed that's what this was." I felt for him.
I've developed a routine: check email, see rejection, sigh, update tracking spreadsheet, submit the piece elsewhere. It's still disappointing every time and often makes me question the writing. Is it good enough? Is anyone going to connect with it? I appreciate all editors who give thoughtful and encouraging feedback. This rejection game can be hard. So, take heart in any personal critiques you get and pay attention when your work is praised. Dust yourself off, and submit again.