Weekly Musing: Submission Sabbatical

When one decides to write the expectation is at some point you will submit your story in the hopes of getting published. If you’re a fiction writer you usually start off writing and sending short stories out. If you write non-fiction then essays are probably your best bet. In essence it’s how we build up our resume so that if and when we decide to take the next step to get to the big leagues, we can show others have taken a chance on us. It’s also a way to start building up our brand. It’s also a way for potential agent or publisher to see our previous works. With sending out work comes a huge amount of anxiety. Will the editor like it and accept it? Will it be rejected?

A few years ago I didn’t realize I had to worry about publishing credits because it could possibly up my chances of getting a novel published. I was under the impression the process was write book and figure out how to get it published. This additional wrinkle of publishing short stories to build up my street cred was curious to me.

On the surface this makes some sense to me. Yet when I examine it a little more, I see some cracks in the argument. If I’ve completed a novel to the best of my ability and send it around to agents and publishers, they’ll be reading and judging if that manuscript, and only that manuscript and me are worth taking a chance on. Of course in the query letter I will have the opportunity to brag about publishing credits so perhaps it will be helpful. But if someone doesn’t have previous publishing credits should they be automatically be excluded from consideration? Do previous publishing credits mean that one’s novel will be better than someone who has never been published? I believe the short answer to all of these questions is no.

Perhaps I’ve come to this conclusion because 2016 hasn’t been as generous as previous years. Yes, I’ve had a few things come out this year *INSERT LINKS*, but those were stories submitted last year. So far everything submitted this year has been rejected. Beyond boilerplate answers, I’m not completely certain why. Perhaps I’ve picked the wrong outfits. Perhaps I’m trying to make a story fit criteria that it truly doesn’t.

But with a year of rejections it’s been difficult to keep going. Some weeks I’ve received two to four rejections. For my self-confidence those weeks really suck. From the start aspiring writers are told to develop a thick skin. Realize not everyone will like everything you write. That rejection is a part of the industry and most of the time rejections do not mean you are a crappy writer.

When I look at how many places I’ve sent stories to, I guess it makes sense I’d receive more rejections, but my hope is more places = more chances I’ll get a yes. I keep track of my submissions so it would be easy enough to count up the rejections. But I don’t want to. I already have a visual with each rejection nailed to a wall, something I stole from Stephen King’s On Writing. I’m now on my second nail having run out of space on the first nail in mid-2015.

It’s unclear to me if having this visual is good for my self-esteem. While I accept rejection as normal, I am human. My skin has thickened over the years, but still rejection hurts. And honestly it is difficult not to take it personally. After all with each word I write I am sharing a piece of myself with the world. Unfortunately the wary my personality processes rejection is tell myself I suck. Don’t worry, though, this thought does eventually go away.

So as the year has gone on and I’ve received nothing but rejections, I noticed it was getting to me emotionally and mentally. I started finding it more difficult to justify writing even though it truly is the only thing I want to do. It’s the one area I can admit I have some natural ability. At times it’s been hard to find the motivation to put pen to paper, to revise anything in the hopes of making it good enough for someone else. I also wondered what happens to my chances of landing an agent or publisher if I don’t get another short story published.

Instead of continuing to submit my work I am taking a break. It’s not permanent and next year I’ll gather the courage to put myself out there once more. At first this decision was kind of scary and I questioned if I was being too sensitive. But I hope I know me. Know there are times when something isn’t working or is too painful, to not press through. In this case I’d become demoralized and any joy I got out of writing had been sucked out.

I don’t know what, if any, impact this will have on my career. I doubt it will because I believe I am getting better even if the number of rejections grows. At this point what matters most is 1) revising the novel I’ve been working on and off on for years. It needs to get done to send to beta readers and agents, 2) concentrating more on writing with a clear head without the weight of getting published, and 3) improving my writing. Any other thoughts need to be brushed aside.

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