August 17, 2018 § 16 Comments
By Jay Vera Summer
When I first began submitting to online literary magazines seven years ago, I had no idea how the process worked. I felt nervous and intimidated, and it took all of my courage to send something out. I’d submit to one publication, wait, think about the submission literally every day, and then feel dejected and possibly cry when I received a rejection weeks or months later.
Each time I saw a rejection in my inbox, I took it personally. I’d wonder if my writing was trash, if I should give up writing completely. It’d take me a few weeks to rebuild my confidence, then start the process all over, submitting my story or essay to another lit mag, then waiting. If three lit mags rejected something, I abandoned it, figuring the editors knew better than I did.
As some of you have probably guessed, I didn’t get anything published this way.
Later, I met published writers through writing workshops and eventually, an MFA program. Initially, I was surprised to hear people I admired and considered successful talk about their rejections. When a woman who’d won a Pushcart Prize told me she always sent out her pieces until they were either accepted or rejected at least fifty times, I realized I needed to adjust my perspective on my own work and not give up so easily.
In the world of writing, rejection is not failure. It is a necessary part of professional growth and the road to publication. Although at first I still felt the raw sting of each rejection, I began to submit more widely and frequently after learning many accomplished writers viewed their rejections with pride. I tried to mimic them and take my rejection letters as a badge of honor, an initiation of sorts. Instead of taking a rejection as proof I’m not good enough, I decided my ability to withstand rejection was proof that the label “writer” truly belongs to me.
After becoming a literary magazine editor myself (of Saw Palm, weirderary, and now, Chronically Lit), I learned first-hand that lit mags editors often reject work they consider good. Sometimes a piece is high-quality, but doesn’t fit the aesthetic or theme of that particular issue or publication. Sometimes one editor really wants a piece, but another overrules them. Sometimes everyone at a lit mag likes a piece, but they decide it’s too similar to something else they’ve already accepted.
The bottom line is, a rejection isn’t necessarily a value judgment of the work in question, even if it feels like it.
Last year, I decided to get over my fear of rejection once and for all. I was graduating with my MFA and realized I had over a dozen short pieces I liked from my three years in the program. I began a big push, submitting these pieces widely, determined not to stop until each piece had either been accepted, or rejected at least fifty times. I submitted pieces to multiple outlets simultaneously (but only to publications I’d read and knew were appropriate, of course–submitting to publications that aren’t a good fit is a waste of both writers’ and editors’ time).
During this year of intense submitting, I received twelve acceptances. To earn those twelve acceptances, I had to sustain 330 rejections. Yes, three-hundred-thirty. That’s roughly 28 rejections for each acceptance, almost one rejection a day for an entire year. And I am so happy about it. I’m not only happy because of the acceptances, though of course, that feels nice. I’m happy because I finally understand and can handle the process. I finally believe in my work.
If the timid, insecure writer I was seven years ago could see me now, she would be so proud.
Jay Vera Summer is a writer and college writing instructor living in Florida. Her work may be found in The Hawai’i Review, The Conium Review, Proximity, Luna Luna Magazine, and more. She is Editor in Chief of the online literary magazine Chronically Lit. Find her at jayverasummer.com or @jayverasummer on twitter.