This post may be ill-advised but I am completely burnt out on angry rejection rejections, those unsolicited rejection responses from writers who are incapable of handling rejection. By burnt out, I mean I am done. I have had it. This is pretty irrelevant in the grand scheme of things but you know how you’re outside walking on a bright sunny day, listening to music and feeling good, but there’s a tiny pebble in your shoe and that tiny pebble keeps digging in your heel and digging in your heel and eventually, that tiny pebble is digging in your heel so hard you can no longer see the sun? It’s like that.
Rejection is the most common thing a writer can experience. When it comes to writing, rejection is the rule, not the exception. If you cannot handle rejection, don’t be a writer.
I am completely burnt out becauseÂ I take no pleasure in sending rejections. I really don’t. But I don’t cry about sending rejections either. I don’t feel guilt or mourn or dwell on it too much. There’s not enough time and there are too many submissions for that. Â There are only twelve months in the year. We receive more than 7,000 submissions annually. We accept 20-25 pieces for each monthly issue and 60 or so pieces for the annual print issue. We have considered publishing two monthly issues so we can accept more work but don’t know if that’s something we want to do. More writers should be aware of the actual statistics involved with submissions. Our volume is moderate. There are magazines that receive far more submissions than we do and a few magazines that receive less work. It might seem like a lottery and sometimes it is. You have to send the right story and hope that story will be read by the right people at the right time. The difference between the real lottery and the lottery of submissions is that when you’re submitting your work you have some control over your luck.
We have to say no far more than we can say yes so we only select the work we fall madly in love with. Taste is subjective. What we love is subjective and shaped by both Matt and myself as well as our incredible readers who advocate enthusiastically for the work they love. We draw from all these perspectives so that we’re always offering a diverse, interesting range of content across our various platforms and so that we’re not simply publishing what two people like. This system works really well for us. We could not be prouder of the magazine we put together each month and year and we’re always excited about learning and growing and trying to be better.
There are so many factors that go into why a given submission will or won’t be accepted. You do have a better chance of having your work accepted when you read the magazine and, more importantly, when you like what we publish. Believe it or not, we can generally tell when you have a familiarity with PANK but beautiful writing is beautiful writing and when we see that kind of writing that grabs us in the gut, we don’t care about anything else.
An alarming number of these rejection rejections discuss how terrible our magazine is. Forgive us, but there’s a disconnect there. Why do you want to be published in a magazine you do not respect? What does that say about you as a writer that you’re willing to submit to a magazine whose content you find contemptible?
The great thing about literary magazines is that they are abundant. There is no shortage of magazines that cater to all manner of literary tastes. What is wrong for PANK is most assuredly going to be right for another great magazine. What is wrong for one of those other great magazines out there might be just right for us. When you consider just how many magazines are out there, rejecting rejection seems even more ridiculous.
In rejection rejections, we are often accused of accepting bad or mediocre writing from writers with a long list of credits. Let me tell you something. I’m lazy. In order to even view the cover letter in Submishmash, I have to move my mouse up to the top of the screen and then I have to click. I am lazy enough that I don’t bother to do this step until a decision has been made about the submission. I literally cannot be bothered. Only when a decision has been made do I read the cover letter because sometimes, writers send me personal notes and I don’t want to miss those and I’m also curious about what a writer has to say in their cover letter. People tell us the strangest, quirkiest, most charming things. Â We love cover letters but they have no bearing on the editorial process. Why? Because we don’t give a good goddamn where a writer has been published and we don’t care about your being a finalist in that one contest and honestly we don’t recognize 60% of the magazine names writers list so your saying you’ve been published in Fraggle Rock Review means very little. (By the way, congratulations on all of that.)
This accusation is also frustrating because we’ve developed a pretty solid reputation of being open to new writers. I especially like new writers because they have fewer bad writing habits. Nearly every issue contains work from unpublished writers. We have a particular fondness for high schoolers who submit some of the most refreshing work we read every day. We could all learn a few things from great high school writers.
There is this really pervasive and kind of dangerous myth among frustrated writers that you need to be published to get published and that you need to know the right people and so on. Please remove your tinfoil caps. I will not deny that there are magazines where credits matter. There are all kinds of reasons for this, reasons that are both reasonable and unreasonable. At the fancy magazines where they receive submissions in the tens of thousands each year, it makes sense to scan cover letters for recognizable credits. If a writer has been published, for example, in the very competitive Cream City Review, chances are that writer can string a few sentences together. Managing submissions at that volume, with such limited resources, requires triage. Readers are looking for known quantities. Every submission generally gets read but people with solid credits will get read sooner, and probably more closely. If you can come up with a better way for a magazine to manage their submissions when they’re dealing with 3,000 submissions a month, let them know. Editors, everywhere, would celebrate you.
I will not deny that at times, name recognition plays a part in a writer having work accepted. There is writing and there is publishing and in order for magazines to continue to publish they need to sell copies and in order to sell copies, magazines need to include a few recognizable names because people who buy magazines (all ten of them) are also looking for known quantities. They’re looking for something they can invest in. Even when magazines include these recognizable names they struggle to break even, let alone turn a profit. At least when a magazine breaks even, though, they can afford to print another issue. If you can come up with a better way for a magazine to remain financially solvent, get in touch. Editors, everywhere, would celebrate you.
We think about these problems. We care about these problems. We try to solve these problems as best we can. We have not given up on the idea of sustaining a financially and critically successful literary magazine that can effectively and fairly manage a high volume of submissions. In the meantime, we do what we have to do—take it or leave it.
All that said, these sorts of practices are not the norm at magazines of this size and if they are, fuck that magazine. I mean, honestly. (see: the abundance of literary magazines).
Most editors are not thinking about writers when they consider submissions. Editors are thinking about WRITING. That distinction is really, really important. At PANK, we’re too small, we’re too passionate about what we do, and we’re too busy to sit around with our thumbs up our asses playing bullshit games. You can believe that or not but as long as you obsess about conspiracy theories as to why you’re not being published and why other writers are being published instead of concentrating on your writing, on your craft, you will likely not find the acceptance you’re looking for.
This is the straw that broke the camel’s back. I rejected a pretty good story yesterday, one from a writer who shows a lot of promise. This happens quite a bit because our submission queue is regularly full of high quality work. I’ve read submissions for a few magazines over the past twelve years and I’ve never seen such consistent excellence as I see in the writing submitted to PANK. It’s humbling and makes reading submissions a daily pleasure. You guys BRING IT and we appreciate the care you put into your writing and that’s why we try to do things like send personal rejections and respond quickly. We want you to know that this is a human endeavor and that you are appreciated.
Anyway, the first reader enjoyed this pretty good story and I enjoyed this pretty good story but neither of us loved the story. There were some real problems (as there are with most stories), particularly with the writing in the beginning of the story. We sent a friendly rejection, without feedback, the kind where we say we really enjoyed the submission and while we can’t use it, we warmly encourage the writer to send more. That’s it. We’ve sent this writer three other such rejections, I believe. We mean it every time we send this rejection, we don’t just send these rejections promiscuously. However, a friendly rejection is not a rain check for acceptance. It is not a guarantee. It is simply our way of saying we enjoyed what we read and we would enjoy seeing more. The writer responded angrily with insults about the magazine as well as personal insults. Â If I got riled up every time someone on the Internet insulted me, I’d have a stroke. I got angry mostly because this rejection rejection was so out of left field.Â I was going to post the letter here but then I decided, why bother? That’s just an asshole move. Â Nothing good comes ouf it. I’ve done it in the past and I apologize. Doing that was immature. I am immature. Â I’m trying to be a better editor.Â I will note, though that I was referred to as, “Woman,” in a really condescending way, and the phrase, “You should be impressed with my writing,” was used. I did what I normally do when I respond to these messages and said, “We wish you the best in your writing endeavors.” I also mentioned I was going to blog about this and the writer insisted I not refer to him by name. Â I am always amazed by what someone is willing to say when they don’t have to take responsibility for their words.
I’m not saying editors are saints. We are just as human as writers. Sometimes editors send rude rejections. Sometimes we offer unsolicited feedback though when we do this, we generally mean well. Sometimes editors make questionable decisions. Sometimes editors play the bullshit games that make unpublished writers believe they will never have a chance. I get it. But for the most part, editors are decent people trying to build great magazines with very little money, and all volunteer staffs which means they’re doing it for love, plain and simple.
You have to have a certain amount of confidence to be a writer, to submit your writing to magazines and publishers. Writing is something that is often very personal, something Â in which you, as a writer, are extremely invested. As writers we work hard in whatever free time we can scratch out for ourselves. There’s no money in it and not much glory. Writers do it for the love, plain and simple, too. As a writer, you have to believe in yourself enough to withstand rejection, to not give up when one editor or ten editors or a hundred editors tell you no. You have to find a way to make sense of the business of writing when writing can be so personal. I understand why rejection stings and why a writer’s first instinct might be to behave badly in the face of it. There is a problem, though, when you are so confident in your writing that you cannot take no for an answer.
There are all kinds of stories about famous writers who have met with rejection. These stories have taken on a mythic quality because they offer us hope. They are a reminder that even the most brilliant writers have had to accept rejection. I love these stories. They buoy me when my confidence and faith in my writing are flagging.
Duotrope tells me my writing is rejected 78% of the time. That’s pretty staggering and humbling and it is a stark reminder of the ways in which I need to improve as a writer and continue to thicken my skin. While I have a lot to learn as a writer, I also have decent credits and prospects, I’d say, and yet nearly eight times out of ten, an editor tells me no. This is one of the reasons I blog about rejection on my personal blog, to show that rejection is not something you ever move beyond as a writer. In fact, the more your career progresses, the more painful and constant the rejections become. You’re writing (hopefully) is improving but the stakes are also higher as you try to get an agent, sell books, reach for those glittering magazines with the names of cities like Paris (Review) or New York (er).
Almost every editor in this world is also a writer and as writers, we know that rejection sucks. As writers, we do not have to accept rejection gracefully, at least not privately, but it could not hurt to try. As a writer, it is frustratingÂ to hear an editor say, “no,” when we believe in our work passionately. Sometimes, rejection makes me want to punch something. You know what I do? I punch something. In my apartment. Alone. We complain to our friends when we’re rejected. Maybe we blog about those rejections. Maybe we vow to never submit to the magazine who spurned us, ever again. We’re writers. It makes sense that we might have a flair for the dramatic. What we shouldn’t do is send angry, abusive, insulting e-mails to those editors who don’t have the good sense to accept our work. That’s just rude and if our confidence in our writing is well-placed, it’s their loss. Send those angry letters to your friends, your lovers, your pets, or your therapists. Go for a walk. Take a deep breath. Get a grip. Take another look at your writing. Send your writing back out into the world. Dealing with rejection is all in a day’s work for editors and writers alike.