Just Keep Knocking

May 14, 2015 § 18 Comments

Just keep going, buddy.

Just keep going, buddy.

Once or twice a year, I take a month and send out a submission to a journal, literary website, or a radio show every day. Thirty or thirty-one submissions (choosing February seems like cheating), formatted and cover-lettered and sent, click, click, click. I’m all about the scattershot approach — rejections drift in slowly over the next six months or so, and by the time my next submission blitz rolls around, I don’t even remember what got turned down where (God bless spreadsheets!).

But what about the persistent, single-minded submission process? At The Missouri Review, Michael Nye writes about seeing stories come in from the same authors, over and over, and hearing an intern ask,

How does someone keep sending work to a magazine that keeps rejecting the work?

Assistant editor Evelyn Somers spoke up at this point, explaining that getting rejected by a magazine repeatedly and then, finally, getting work accepted is, actually, fairly normal. It’s a little frustrating for an editor, she said, when a writer submits to us five times and then just stops and we never hear get the chance to read the writer’s work again. To emphasis this point, she noted that TMR has published several writers who sent manuscripts to us for over a decade before we published their work.

It’s a fascinating article, with some great behind-the-scenes information about the submissions process. But it doesn’t end with, “And this is the time we finally published them!”

Which makes me think, it takes more than ordinary persistence to keep sending out work in the face of form rejections and silence. It’s hard for a writer to know if they’re just missing the mark, or not playing in the same league.

How can you tell? How do you figure out where to submit your work more than once?

Check out Michael Nye’s article at The Missouri Review.


Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor and the author of Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro from Blank Page to Book. Want writing news, events, and upcoming webinars? Join the A-List!

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§ 18 Responses to Just Keep Knocking

  • This is well timed. Thanks! I’ve sent off my first piece today, a huge thing for me, I know I’ll have to be tough, and forge ahead. 🙂

  • Brandon Spun says:

    Wow, encouraging. Thanks for the post.

  • Jill Schmehl says:

    Is this true of all magazines? Are you, Brevity, saying I should keep on submitting my work, despite your past rejection?

    It feels so demeaning.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      Jill, I admit, I’m really, really torn about this. On one hand, I’ll probably keep submitting to This American Life until I die. But I don’t really like how it’s phrased in the article I linked to – like, “very good, little author, now show us how you’ve grown.” It feels like an unfairly slanted process. On the third hand, I don’t have a better idea how to do it. If there’s 100 submissions in the pile, and 30 of them are worth a “not quite but please try again,” that’s a lot of personalized emails to send for often-unpaid staff.

      In my previous life I was an entertainer, and certainly, auditioning over and over again for the same directors is part of it, and I did get jobs when someone who had seen me before felt like I’d grown or surprised them. And I’ve hired actors after seeing them 4-5 times, and being impressed with how their work got better.

      So that’s a question – is it demeaning to treat authors like they are auditioning to prove they’re good enough to be in? Or is it a part of being an artist, that we’re constantly having to push our work in front of the gatekeepers, and constantly being rejected until we hit the right combination of “good work”+”right venue”+”right time”?

      If my dream was to work for Google, I’d probably send in a new resume every time I had a new qualification or they had a new opening.

      What do you think?

      • Jill Schmehl says:

        I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot since I first read your post. It was well (or poorly – depending on your perspective) timed, as I’d received two rejections that very day, hence the snarky tone of my comment. But after further review, and after reading your response, it occurred to me that it is only as demeaning as I choose to make it.

        I’ve always imagined a bitter, also-unpublished intern gleefully tossing my (brilliant) submission into the trash, but it would be just as easy, and more productive, to imagine a scene as described in the article you linked: with someone hoping for me to summit again. Both of those scenarios, and others I’d guess, are possible, but the realisation that the second exists has made all the difference.

        Just like the rejected actor at the audition, I have the choice to walk away with the determination to get better, or the decision to give up. The person doing the rejecting does not make that decision, I do.

  • utahrob says:

    I got more of a kick out of the comments section on this piece.

  • eliana23 says:

    This is the question, of course. How do you know to keep plugging on a piece and a particular journal and when to let it go. I kind of like the idea of one month dedicated to submissions.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      My rule for myself – if no-one who pays takes a piece, start sending to the places that don’t pay. If no-one still takes it, put it on my blog. I’ll probably send out a piece I believe in 30 times. If I’m iffy about the piece, I’ll try to workshop it in some context (live workshop, have a friend read it, online contest that gives feedback, etc)

      I love the month of submissions, because rejections mean a lot less when there’s a bunch of them 🙂

      • susieq777 says:

        30 times? Goodness me. I wuss out way earlier than that. Really interesting to get a look into someone else’s practice. I think I will make a concerted effort to not put it on my blog before the submission count hits double digits 🙂

  • Ramona says:

    Just as I was looking for places to submit some work, this came along. Thanks!

  • rachaelhanel says:

    What a great idea — sort of a NaNoWriMo for essayists.

    I don’t know how one knows if you’re missing the mark. I suppose it takes some honest self-criticism — are you submitting work that fits with what else the journal has published? Are you getting form rejections or sometimes a handwritten sentence or two? I love it when journal editors personally say, “This piece isn’t for us, but please submit again.”

  • susieq777 says:

    I keep getting the most encouraging rejections from one of the markets I most wish to submit to, and which pays the most out of my local markets. Most of the lesser places I contribute to don’t even bother responding. It’s such an odd situation, like the most dangly carrot is the gold one.

    This game calls for so much persistence, it’s truly batty

  • […] blog, Michael Nye praises “stubbornly submitting to a literary magazine.” (Thanks to the Brevity blog for making sure that I caught […]

  • […] “Just Keep Knocking” via Brevity‘s Nonfiction Blog […]

  • jlcannon says:

    Brava, Jill. That’s one of the only two alternatives, it seems to me. I’ve been doing this for over 30 years, but can’t seem to quit–yet.

  • […] November, it might be worth setting out a project with specific goals and a dedicated time. Maybe send out X number of submissions, or revise a set number of pages. Read a group of books you’ve been meaning to get to, and […]

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