I’m not sure whether to call it perseverance or pig-headedness. A few days ago a story of mine, “Tacking in Moonlight,” was accepted by the Valparaiso Fiction Review at Valparaiso University. Some of my MFA-mates may remember I wrote the first draft during a fiction workshop back in 2007. After a few rounds of revision, I began trying to get it published.
A dozen or so rejections later, I realized the story needed more revision. (Yeah, I’m dense like that.) I dove more deeply into the characters, tweaked the plot, cleaned up a few other aspects, and submitted to more journals. More rejection.
Revised again. Submitted again. Rejected again.
This pattern went on through nine more rounds of revision. In those four-plus years “Tacking” was rejected more than 60 times. That’s right: six, zero.
Perhaps it didn’t seem so desperate because each revision was spaced out by several months, and each time I sent out five to eight copies of the manuscript, then moved onto another project. In retrospect, though, it is a LOT of rejection just for one acceptance. But I knew from the start the story was good, actually damn good, and I always believed it deserved a home.
I’m trying not to draw too many conclusions from this, because most of them would be ego deflating, along the lines of “I’m not as good a writer as I think I am.” That may be true, but I can’t let it stop me from pursuing my literary goals. Maybe it’s more like the literary world is so crowded with people who write well, and there are so few decent outlets for that writing, that it will continue to be this difficult to get good stories published.
In this month’s Poets & Writers Magazine, M. Allen Cunningham tackles the subject in his article, “In the Absence of Yes: The Sixteenth Rejection Letter” (it’s in the print magazine only, so I can’t give you a link). He too had a great article that received 16 rejections (16? Ha!), and a short story that currently has 37. Although he’s a well-established author with two novels published, he reports that status hasn’t improved his acceptance rate.
He worries, in the same way I do, about his place in the writing world. “Might I be living and writing in the wrong era? Is my stuff unfashionable?” And he makes some great points about the capriciousness of editors’ decisions: “Fashions, favors, nepotism, ‘insider trading,’ ad revenue, moral presumptions, allergies, upset tummies, hangovers, serotonin deficiencies, and, above all, personal taste, can stand between ourselves and whatever we and our work rightfully deserve.”
And yet, all I can do—all most of us can do—is continue to write, and strive to improve, and not worry when or how the next acceptance will come. Only have faith that it will.