In which we set the goal of logging 100 honestly won rejections in 100 days.
What do we mean by honestly won?
We mean these are sincere efforts. We’ve spent time crafting and editing our submissions until they are ready, thoughtfully seeking out markets that are appropriate for them, and following submission guidelines. There are no throwaways here. Every submission is an honest and sincere effort to secure a publication for a piece we’ve worked hard to polish.
Where did you come up with this idea?
I can’t take credit for the idea of aiming for 100 rejections. I read about it in a blog post in which a writer described a fellow writer’s goal for one year. I’m sure many wise mentors and great writers have suggested similar feats, but I wanted to refine it, make it into a shared event in a shorter time period and include rejections outside of the literary world. We do the arts at kBlJ too, and there are more than a couple of academics (or former academics) among us. Let’s log our rejections together and pool our reflections. We begin today and end early October, when our next issue is released.
Why celebrate rejection?
Everyone has their own answer for this and not everyone thinks it’s a good idea. But for me, it’s part of the process. There is no feasible way to be a writer or artist of any kind and not have an intimate relationship with rejection. Light years ago I was an actor, and every rejection hit so hard I had to eventually walk away from it. I remember crying once after an open call audition where a friend of mine got a callback and I didn’t, and I just felt like I was throwing myself again and again against a solid, unbreakable wall.
Well… Sometimes we are. I will probably never get that acceptance letter from the New Yorker that I imagined as a starry-eyed teenager. And if that was the only wall I was trying to scale, it might just topple over and crush me, and I’d have to walk away from writing too. But I choose to diversify. Some walls will be lower. Some higher.
You could reduce it to the fact that the more rejections you aim for, the more you end up writing, and the more you write, the better you get. But it’s more than that. There’s a comfort level with rejection that I needed to establish after I walked away from acting and decided I was going to make myself vulnerable again.
And you know what? The first rejection letter I received was brutal.
I will never cut and paste correspondence because I believe in preserving the expectation of privacy that goes along with one on one communication, but I can paraphrase:
Clearly you have never read an issue of this publication or read the submission guidelines.
I was mortified. I had read the publication, and thought that the story I’d submitted would be a good fit. I’d also read the submission guidelines, and couldn’t figure out where I’d gone wrong. I’m also not a “mister” but that barely registered compared with the rest of the message. My anxiety level was so high reading that rejection that I nearly closed the message, deleted it, deleted the story, and went back to endlessly working on a novel that had no beginning or ending, that no one would ever read.
But I didn’t.
I paused, debating whether it would just be making it worse to write back, but in the end, I decided that it was that or be forever constrained by my anxiety that I was not only a horrible writer but completely incapable of comprehending a set of submission guidelines. This was my first submission and I’d scrutinized them. I composed a polite letter apologizing and asking for clarification if the editor had the time, and thanking him for his feedback.
I was relieved when he wrote back. The editor actually thanked me for my professional response and explained the guideline I’d misunderstood (it had to do with a misreading of the word “profanity.” I can now say having studied the definition of profanity in law school that personal definitions can vary, and I have learned my lesson).
After it had been cleared up, I can say that my first rejection letter was the best I could have hoped for. It wasn’t the nicest, and I never want to receive one like it again. But it was a good first rejection. It was harsh enough to let me know what I was getting into. Not every rejection letter is nice. Some are. One rejection letter was so nice that I had to stop myself from writing back just to thank the editor for her kind words. Without a pressing reason like the need for clarification I’ve described above I generally don’t recommend responding to a rejection even to thank an editor for their time. It takes up time and adds to already overstuffed inboxes. But that first rejection letter also taught me something, or rather, reminded me of something I learned in fifth grade, when my teacher Ms. Nipp was tearing a group of us a new one for wandering out of the schoolyard at recess.
She wrote the word in enormous block letters on the blackboard, stabbing the chalk so hard it broke in half on the “U.”
“Makes an ass–“
She circled the first half of the word repeatedly, her face bright red under her oversized autoshade glasses.
“Out of you–“
I had never felt so lucky in my life as when she directed this portion of the lesson at another student across the room. A teacher had just used the word ass. She was pissed enough to be screaming that we were asses. As terrifying as that was, a nervous smile cracked on every single face in that classroom.
She dropped the chalk and folded her arms across her chest tightly, and I saw her hands shaking and realized that she wasn’t angry. She was scared.
I can’t believe I forgot that fucking lesson.
Note: Profanity isn’t a dealbreaker in Kaaterskill Basin, unless it’s intolerant or blatantly gratuitous, and anything blatantly gratuitous is really unfortunate.
But the takeaway from that first rejection was twofold. One, really, really take those guidelines seriously. If it says no profanity and I have a line that says “Oh my God” [I believe that was the phrase at issue] I remove it, or if that phrase is somehow integral to the story, I submit it to another market. Two, I can take rejection. It’s survivable.
And maybe it’s even something that can be celebrated, or at least honored. Because there is value in it.
Maybe it can even be made into a community building experience of sorts.
So I invite you to join me in this exercise.
Since I can’t count that first rejection, as it happened quite a while ago, I will start the 100 count with one I received this morning:
- Received 6/29/2016 by Dana Mele
A science fiction dystopian story rejected from a magazine I admire. I logged the rejection on duotrope, selected another market that I also admire, and submitted it for consideration. This second choice is also a long shot, but I really like this piece, so I’m going for it. Wish me luck.
If you’d like to take part in the tally, to simply log a rejection or to do me one better and write a short blog post reflecting on that rejection or rejection in general, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal