2018 was a big year for me. I went from having zero publication credits to three in a really short space of time – one for a first chapter contest I’d made the short list for in 2016, one hand-to-god pro sale, and one hand-to-god invitation to contribute. Spring 2018 felt like a lifechanging moment for me.
It was. I’m incredibly proud of those three stories of mine out there for total strangers’ eyeballs. Buuuuuuuuuuuut I made the mistake of thinking that I Had Arrived and had somehow cut to the front of the line, skipping all that rejection business.
Ha. Haha. Ha.
The remaining three fourths of the year were a bit more bruising. I racked up 28 rejections for 6 pieces in 2018, most of which happened after those initial success stories. Both of those stats are low, but I’m still giving myself credit for having gone from 0 submissions for 0 pieces my entire life to where I’m at now.
I want to write that I’m going to write more pieces and bag even more rejections this year, but I don’t know if that’s true. I’m going to finish my current project, which started as a short story, evolved into a novella, and is now barreling toward full-novel length. I want to make it as good as it can be and then see what I can do with it. I have an action plan, and I fully expect to get this done within weeks (unlike my poor half-baked first novel, which is the world where I’m still daydreaming most of the time – someday, sexy backwoods demon romp, someday).
I’d like to write more short fiction, and there are two or three of those afore-mentioned rejected pieces I’m not done with. But I’m trying to approach the submission cycle with a healthier mindset. There were quite a few days, weeks, and occasionally months spent obsessively refreshing Submission Grinder, Duotrope, Moksha, and Submittable in fits of purposeless rejectomancy that took away from my writing and reading, and did some low-key damage to my mental health.
Rejections are a part of this, no matter who you are or how good you are. It’s necessary, and I understand there are an avalanche of reasons why an editor might pass on a piece that have nothing to do with talent or potential. Obsessive tracking of submissions, though, is not a good habit to get into.
I figured out pretty quickly that the emotional impact a rejection has on me directly correlates to the duration of time spent waiting for a response. Last fall, I got an email letting me know that I’d been sent up to the actual editors-in-chief for consideration at one of my most aspirational magazines. Did I know it was beyond a long shot? Of course. Did that stop me from imagining my name gracing the cover of that hallowed publication, followed swiftly by inclusion in all the Best Of horror anthologies and finally a Stoker and Shirley Jackson award? And then pitching a collection of short fiction for a substantial advance? And then quitting my day job to leave the wildly successful dream? No ma’am. No it did not.
That shortlisted rejection was cause to celebrate. Making it past the slush reader at that place in particular is a huge deal, and it means I shouldn’t shelf that story. But it shook me enough that I pulled the plug on submitting anything for a month in December so that I could spend some time with family and catch my breath. I think that was a good move and I feel a little more fortified for future near-misses. I’ve got that same story out again at another super dreamy venue, and if that doesn’t work, I’ve got more lined up for it. I’ve even already received my first 2019 rejection (happy New Year!).
But I want to focus on my writing more this year. If that means nothing gets published, so be it. After I took my break and took a hard look at my poor little twelve-times-rejected piece of flash fiction, I had to admit that there was a reason it wasn’t getting picked up. Other stories in that slim stack weren’t in much better shape. That’s fine – there are three I still believe in and am going to place eventually, no matter how many form rejections it takes to get there. But I think I got caught up in the idea of publication to the extent that I was putting out work that wasn’t ready and upsetting myself by having it inevitably kicked back.
So my writing goal for 2019 is much less quantitative than my usual yearly goals. I don’t necessarily want to write more (though I wouldn’t argue with that if it works out that way), I want to write better. I’m trying to wean myself off refreshing the recent response pages on my submission aggregators, and I’m trying not to care how many days each of my submissions has been out.
It was thrilling beyond words to get work out last year, and I’m grateful to the tremendous support and encouragement I got from family and from people in the industry. I learned quite a bit about how the short speculative fiction world works, and I’ve picked up quite a few publications that I look forward to reading in full issue form. But I’m a bit more reconciled to this being a never-ending marathon instead of the sprint it seemed to be last last April.