Believe me, it wasn’t easy. I plowed through only one-and-a-half of three stacks of submissions, logging out short stories, essays, and poetry. As I worked, I read through cover letters, paged through submissions,and scanned through the editors’ comments, thinking: dang, how hard is it?
The answer: really hard.
I read submissions by writers from the Iowa Workshop, from professors at Emory and Harvard, from multiple graduates of Princeton, Yale, and all the other Ivies. There were writers who had been published in The New Yorker and The New York Times, writers whose stories had been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories or had won Pushcart Prizes—lists of accolades and accomplishments that baffled me.
There were writers who had no formal training, but had excellent stories; writers who had formal training, but wrote as if they were in high school. There were teen-age writers, writers in their 70s just starting out, even a writer who had sent his hand-written submission from a criminal insane asylum.
At the end of the day, I was weary of those yellow slips. I’ve just started sending out my own stories, and though I know the road to success is paved with rejection slips, I worry about the future. How many writers kept trying, when they should have given up? Worse still, how many writers gave up, when they could have been great if they’d only kept submitting?
I went back to those cover letters: all those writers who had won incredible awards, who had been published in so many other prestigious magazines and reviews. They were succeeding, even though I was sending them each a rejection letter.
A rejection from one magazine, for one story, doesn’t mean a writer is untalented. Rejections from multiple magazines for multiple stories doesn’t mean a writer should give up, either. Just like lovers, some writers and magazines fit each other, while others do not.
Beyond that, though, all writers can improve their work and thereby increase their odds. The best way to do so is to continue writing, continue revising, and continue submitting.
If we’re lucky, we may even get a hand-written rejection note from a wise editor: for my green soul, that would be gold.
Until then, all we can do is keep on keepin’ on.