On Submissions, Rejection, and Keeping the Faith

Often, as I’m reading the slush pile for The Los Angeles Review, I have my Twitter account, @kellydavio,  open and active. I give a sort of running commentary with the hashtag #amreadingslush (when I can squeeze it into my character limit. It is, by the way, a hashtag so obscure that I’m fairly certain I’m the only person using it). Sometimes I’m airing my frustration (6 September: If you tell me “I am not enclosing a SASE,” don’t expect a response to your submission.) , and other times I’m mentioning something I like (4 September: I respect submissions that include peel-and-seal SASEs. And appropriate sizes of envelopes.). Usually, I assume I’m just chattering into the void–finding a way to make an hours-long solo project a little less lonely. I almost never receive any kind of feedback from my Twitter followers.

But yesterday, as I was working through my pile of online submissions–yay, no envelopes involved!–I came across a poem that’s going to be a strong contender for inclusion in the magazine. It was by a writer whose work I have, I’m sorry to say, rejected quite a few times in the past. He’s always sent very decent poems, but nothing that ultimately fit the issue we were working on. He’s been faithfully sending more poems each reading period. Not a ridiculous number of poems, mind you, but perhaps one set of work per reading period. I think he may have finally sent the poem that we’re going to publish.

I was ridiculously pleased at how this persistence–his in submitting and ours in drawing the right poem out of him–seems to be paying off.  I fired of the tweet “love it when a writer we’ve rejected several times comes back with a really, really strong piece. Makes me want to high-five the screen.” I didn’t imagine that, when I popped my head back into my twitter stream a while later, I’d find that tweet favorited and retweeted more than anything else I’d ever posted. I didn’t realize anyone had been listening, much less encouraged somehow by this simple story.

But then I thought about some of the search terms that have come into my blog lately. Often, I see variations of “can editors see how many times I’ve submitted to a magazine?” (yes, if we care to search through our archived Submishmash/Submittable records. I can’t recall an occasion on which I’ve chosen to do that, though),  “can editors see which other magazines I’ve submitted to?” (no, and I don’t imagine why we’d want to), and the like. I think the frequency with which I see these questions speaks to just how much we want to increase our own chances of success, and how much the deck feels stacked against us as submitting writers. Maybe my mention of how happy I was to see a knockout piece from this re-submitting writer made the literary magazine world feel just a little more humane.

There are times when our chosen life as writers seems so fraught, so political, so against us. I have actually seen writers label their submissions things like “more poems you won’t ever read.” It makes me want to reach through the screen, pat the writer on the arm and say “seriously, it’s going to be okay.” If you write well, work on your craft, and keep submitting in a professional and consistent manner, you will eventually publish. It won’t be overnight, but it will happen. And we editors are, believe it or not, on your side. We want it for you, too. Courage, friends.

3 Replies to “On Submissions, Rejection, and Keeping the Faith”

  1. It’s really a shame that editors can’t be more transparent about the submission/acceptance process. Mostly it’s due to the sheer number of submissions. I’m coordinating a contest for my alumni association, and am currently looking for ways to make the decision process open to the entrants. They, after all, are our customers. They deserve something more than a receipt for their fee and a rejection email a few months later.

  2. As a writer, how can you find out what an editor is looking for so that you can submit the right thing to the right editor?

  3. The single best thing you can do to get to know an editor’s tastes is to read his or her publication. In fact, it’s really the only way.

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