‘Tis the season of submission!
I am writing letters that all begin “Dear Editors, Please accept my submission” and my students are making flyers that encourage authors and artists to SUBMIT to SCRIBENDI!*
It’s a special time of the year, when I gather pieces determined to be “finished” into a folder and start selecting who I will ask to please consider my submission. This time of the year coincides with the migration of hummingbirds, the bowing heads of sunflowers, and an onslaught of rejection. It is the death of summer.
I remember long ago, before CLMP Submission Manager and Submishmash and Submittable, back when we were a snail mail culture, casting our hope at the post office with slim stack of SASEs. Just before the recession, a rejection cost only 32 cents. I carried a nice rejection from Alaska Quarterly Review next to a four-leaf clover in my wallet. I remember someone had a rabble of rejection letters taped to their bathroom wall, and I thought that was a cool decorating move–way better than caution tape.
Someone, maybe my father, encouraged me to keep my rejections, and I have ever since, in the vague hope that my collection would make sense later.
Ploughshares recently had a blog post to gear up enthusiasm for our autumnal submission. It was filled with tips on process. One read:
5. Keep your rejection slips. This is the life, brothers and sisters. It ain’t pretty, and those rejection slips are your battle scars. Put them in a folder or envelope or drawer or that little box where you used to stash your reefer. Sending your work out is hard. By that I don’t mean that it’s labor-intensive (especially now that more and more outlets are accepting online submissions), but that it’s emotionally draining. You have worked on that story/essay/poem for what? Two months? A year? More? And now you are putting it out there to be judged. Hold on to these little notes as reminders that you are doing your job.
I like the idea of keeping those notes to remind myself that I am doing part of my job, though I know that many writers are into rejection fantasy–the ability to say “My manuscript was rejected 47 times before it was finally picked up and now look how successful it is!” a la The Help.
Those writers, I assume, keep rejection letters for a good laugh later in life:
“I kept the rejection letters I got when I was applying for jobs as a recent graduate. One investment bank that had turned me down was our lead underwriter when we went public. The company was host for a party to celebrate the closing. Everyone was toasting one another and giving speeches.
When my turn came, I told everyone to read what was under their plates. They found a laminated copy of the rejection letter their bank had sent me 17 years earlier. We had a good laugh.” – HAMID MOGHADAM; as told to PATRICIA R. OLSEN
In On Writing, Stephen King says that at fourteen, “The nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and kept on writing.”
That sounds like a metaphor, but still, I bet King has a good laugh when tells that story over cocktails at haunted house slumber parties.
Others say that the pile of “not for us” is some kind of red badge–you’re brave and this wilting spike of rejections symbolizes your courage, determination, and discipline.
When I look at my Gmail folder of rejections (let’s quit pretending they’re physical), I don’t see some rejection fantasy or symbol of my commitment to trudge along. I suppose it’s more record-keeping–who I haven’t heard from yet, who I already sent a version of that piece to–so I’m not sure how to best own my “thanks for the opportunity to read your work, but,” how to let the submission process fill me with pride, how best to be vain in my rejections.
What’s your take on stockpiling no’s?
Also, out of curiosity, does anyone know how the “keep your rejection letters” started?
* We had to talk about an unfortunate visual pairing. In graphic design as well as lit mag management, the language of dominance and hierarchy controls our vocabulary. And I’ve been desperately trying to catch the typos before they go out: “Scribendi is now accepting student submission.”