I recently overheard a conversation between two writers (but were they really?) about how much submitting sucked, how much bias there was toward known authors, how brutal rejection was. I wanted to run to the opposite corner of the room and hide from the abundant stupidity of that conversation. I might’ve interjected, but they were too far away from me. So let me break this down.
I don’t know how much bias there really is toward known authors. I have very little experience on the other end of submissions, and I’ve heard editors claim they don’t even know who a submission is from when they get it, and therefore have no bias. And yet, I can’t imagine Asimov’s publishing a novella by someone completely unheard of, without the writing being positively godly. I don’t know if things are any better or worse in the literary community—my knowledge is confined to speculative fiction markets. No matter what though, unknown people do get published, especially in magazines. Names sell issues, of course, but magazines are different from books. They’re subscription based, and they have multiple authors per issue. So it’s not like a book where a reader is deciding whether or not to buy a copy, they’re probably already subscribed. And for the people who aren’t subscribed, they can pick up an issue with a cover story by Aliette de Bodard that also has a short story by Unknown McNeverpublished.
Is it harder for unknowns? Who gives a shit. I’d be more stressed by being a known, and wondering if the market was accepting subpar stories just because I had a recognizable name.
Whatever. Not that important. Second part now.
“Rejection, it’s brutal.” Those were the exact words. I don’t understand this. I love submitting. And, while I’d rather be accepted than rejected, I enjoy getting rejected too. It means I can submit again.
I think what I like about submitting, and receiving rejections, is that it gives me a feeling of legitimacy. I don’t have much in common with professional writers—not in payment, not in success, not in quality of writing—but something I do have in common with them is that we all submit stories, and we all get rejections. At least, those professional writers who write short fiction do. And that connection to professionals is a cool feeling. With each query letter I write, with each story I put into standard manuscript format, with each new list of markets to submit to that I make, I feel like I’m doing professional work. And I also get a little spike of serotonin thinking, Maybe this’ll be the magazine that accepts this story. Maybe this’ll be my first published piece of short fiction.
And it’s the same with getting a rejection. It gives me a sense of camaraderie, like I’m tapping into this universal vein of disappointment and perseverance and writerliness. I’m not insane, some rejections are painful—like form rejections from a market that normally gives feedback, or rejection after a story has been held for further consideration—but mostly they’re just a small, manageable sting. What was worse was getting no rejections. For a while I was working on a 150K-word novel, and had no short fiction to submit, and I missed submitting so much.
So what’s wrong with these chuckleheads complaining about submissions and rejections? I imagine that they don’t realize that professional writers have achieved success because of long hard work. These clowns probably believe that writers are just like them. That professional writers are people with luck, or people with good connections, or people with god-given talents, or anything other than just plain, old, skilled workers. And because they believe that professional writers are so like them, they ironically don’t feel any connection when they submit, and instead suppose their actual writing to be the connection between them and professional writers. This is valid in some ways, but every writer’s process is different, so I’ve always felt that this writing is more of a personal thing. I suppose it’s less personal if you ape the process of a famous writer, which is what many writing books suggest, and can be a trap for aspiring writers. So by supposing themselves and professionals to be equal, these goofballs debase the writers, and devalue that tenuous but very special connection made in submitting.
The worse for them. I love submitting, and I’ll do it relentlessly just like every writer worth a damn has ever done. And they whinge about submitting, and they’ll do it infrequently—and the poor slush readers will have a few less submissions to read. The better for the workers.