Tired or upset of getting rejection letters? Read the great story below from my friend Martha and maybe feel a little bit better 🙂
RACE TO THE BOTTOM: THE REJECTION CLUB
By Martha Moffett
My plan, this past summer, was to work on one story and get it polished and ready for rejection by Alaska Quarterly, One Story, and Glimmer Train, some of my favorite journals.
That’s an inside joke for the Rejection Club, four writers who decided to send out work at a fast clip and to keep score and compare notes, with the winner (loser) assigned to treat the rest of us to a bottle of wine in our favorite pub at the end of a year.
I had traditionally sent out one story to one journal and waited for a response. Sometimes it was months in coming. Sometimes it never came. “If this happens, they are just not interested in your work” is the general wisdom. At this rate, months become years and the work waited patiently in my computer. My three writer friends followed more or less the same routine.
But after Kim Liao’s article “Why You Should Aim for 100 Rejections a Year” circulated on the Internet in June of 2016, we rethought our position. In addition to increasing our submissions, I said, “Let’s make it a competition. Who can get the most rejections fastest?”
It was on my calendar to take a workshop with Lisa Romeo at the Writers’ Circle called Submission Strategy. Lisa’s spreadsheet was a revelation to me. I began to keep better records of what I sent, where I sent it, the date, the outcome—rejection, yes, but as Lisa said, garner any feedback you get.
The four of us had a backlog of unpublished work. We’d met in a workshop where one of us was finishing a novel set in New York City and Italy; another was working on a crime novel; the third member’s novel was about an American family and how it changed over two
generations; and I was bringing my chapters of a novella to workshop to be picked over for problems of consistency, tone, and point of view. In addition, we all had stories, essays, short-shorts, and other bits and pieces in reserve.
We proceeded to build our attack. We met and exchanged literary journals, to improve our knowledge of what they published and what the editors liked. I came home with an armload of Ploughshares, which I had never read despite its reputation, and I passed out copies of Chattahoochee Review, where I’d been lucky in the past. I had a lot of back issues of One Story for the taking. I picked up copies of Gulf Coast, New Letters, and Bellingham Review.
We also exchanged lists of journals looking for submissions or running contests. One member subscribes to Literistic, a good source. I subscribe to Practicing Writing, Erika Dreifus’s daily blog, for the Monday list, and her monthly newsletter The Practicing Writer. There’s Publishing . . . and other Forms of Insanity. And of course Poets & Writers is available to all of us, magazine or online, a great guide and vetted by P&W—no ripoffs there..
We started our first round of submissions, and soon our emails were reading like this:
I got two rejections in a week. I’m surging ahead!
Do you know how many editors have “loved” this story but rejected it anyway?
Five agents have decided not to represent my novel.
I’m getting rejections from journals I don’t even remember submitting to!
“Your submission was read with interest.” But WAS it?
We sometimes got exactly the same standard rejection letter from different journals. And we discovered favorite tropes:
“Although your story was not selected, it does not mean it was without merit.”
And the current favorite:
“We were blown away by the quality of this year’s contest submissions . . . “
But we learned a lot. First, to take any word of encouragement as an invitation: “We liked your long story but there was no room for it in this issue.” Or, better, “Try us again.” A scribbled note in pencil on a standard rejection was to us fit for framing.
We got better at matching our work to certain journals. We send out work in batches, not one solitary story bearing our hopes for publication. Our common effort has lessened the pain of rejection—has actually given us many laughs. We’re ready to start a new wave of stories flying in all direction, electronically and by snail mail.
Early on, a friend said to Kim Liao, “Shoot for one hundred rejections in a year, because if you work that hard to get so many rejections, you’re sure to get a few acceptances too.”
It’s going to work. It has already worked! A few days ago I received news that I had won the Faulkner-Wisdom Competition for The Novella. My writing friends will soon follow with their acceptances. And that bottle of wine is waiting.