I Rejected Myself: An Author’s Guide to Submission Etiquette

I’ve been working with Miracle E-zine for a little over a year and a half now and I have been so honored by the privilege.  As a strong supporter of multicultural literature, I’ve found that this magazine represents everything that I hold dear in the literary world.  From the introduction of new authors from all around the globe to incorporating the works of seasoned authors who provide interesting and engrossing narrations; Miracle E-zine is constantly in a state of growth.  Through the past year, they have grown into a powerhouse that has remained true to their initial convictions: to provide quality literature to readers around the world and to support international authors and writers.   With the publication of Miracle E-zine’s 8th issue: The Joker Edition (now available in print), Issue 9 is also now available), I was shocked to find that a disgruntled author had posted an unsavory comment upon the magazine’s Facebook page.  Although this would be the first time in my knowledge that the magazine had to endure hostility from a rejected author, I can’t help but notice a growing trend within the writing community:  A lack of decency, graciousness, and etiquette regarding submissions.

If you call yourself an author, you are also calling yourself a professional and in that respect, you must play the part.  Just because you work at home, you submit online, and you don’t have face-to-face contact with a publisher or magazine doesn’t mean that you can abstain from polite conduct.  Sure, we all cringe at the idea of receiving a rejection letter.  I have a whole stack of them myself in my filing cabinet.  Rejection is hard to swallow sometimes, especially if you’re a new author.  It can be discouraging but it’s not the end of the world.

As writers, we take pride in our work and the majority of authors that I know are sensitive by nature.  When they say ‘You need a thick skin for this line of work,’ they’re not kidding.   Compared to the trolls sitting along the sidelines waiting for the opportunity to bash a published author in reviews (another topic I will brush upon next week), rejection letters are a cakewalk.   Rejection letters come from professional editors and publishers.  The publications have specific guidelines they must adhere to in order to preserve the brand in which they are representing.  Most of the time, it has nothing to do with the quality of an author’s writing-sometimes it just doesn’t fit with the theme.   Another consideration an author should keep in mind is that publications also have a limit on how many works can be accepted for a particular issue.  The important thing to remember is to keep trying and do not rely solely on one piece of writing.  If your submission does not work for this particular publication, try another.  Instead of ridiculing the magazine for being so daft as to not publish your work, ask for feedback.  For instance, Miracle offers a writing group for emerging writers. This group assists in the cultivation of an author’s skill.  With knowledge comes a level of power and skill that you can use to your advantage to improve your writing.  The more involved you become within the industry, the more opportunities will present themselves.

Not every piece of writing is worthy of publication.  There, I said it.  Remember, I am an author as well and I have pieces that will never fit anywhere in any publication.  I have short stories that are mangled, some that make no sense.  I have others that are fun to read but do not fit with a particular theme.   I have others I wrote just for the fun of it.  Not everything deserves worldwide recognition or is print-worthy.

I’ve been working on a collection of poetry, prose, and short stories titled ‘Irony, Karma, and Fate Walk Into A Bar’ for the better part of four years now and there are pieces in that collection I’m about ready to give the boot.  Why?  Well, for starters some of the writing does not adhere to the underlying theme of the collection.  Other pieces, to me, lack the level of quality I’m striving for.  In essence, I’m rejecting myself.   After deliberating upon what it means to be rejected (initiated by the aforementioned disgruntled author), I started considering my current manuscript.   Then I thought about other authors and began to question what compels them to submit their work.  I would like all authors to ask themselves this:  ‘Am I submitting this/including this just to get published or am I submitting/including this because I know for a fact that this is my best work?  Can I do better?  Is it of the same level of quality that this publication usually publishes?’  I take pride in my work and so should you.  Submissions are not to be taken lightly or just whipped out and then expect more than what we are worth.  If we submit unworthy writing, we will receive a polite response in return. No matter what, it will be polite.  If its not, do you really want to work with a rude publisher?  Didn’t think so.

Sadly enough, however; no matter how many letters of acceptance an author can receive, no matter how much experience or how large of a platform an author can work from, it does not detract from the unprofessional attitude that one exudes when one resorts to petty hostility.  Your behavior is a direct reflection upon your work and it also prohibits you from submitting to the publication again if you choose to behave in such a fashion.   Contrary to that angry voice in your head that is spewing vehemence-the ‘I’ll show you’ voice that initiates the CAPSLOCK rage, your negativity does not reflect poorly upon the publication.  In fact, it does the exact opposite and reflects upon your incompetence as a professional.

Considering the onslaught of negative feedback and cyber bullying that authors have fallen prey to as of late, I feel the need to point out the obvious.  What we teach our children and what we have learned as children when it comes to the importance of common courtesy and etiquette should not diminish as we age.   If you build your platform upon a string of derogatory comments in retaliation to being rejected, chances are that you are going to eventually develop a platform based solely on that.  Here are a few things to keep in mind when dealing with submissions and rejection.

  • Please and Thank You.  Yes, I am referring to what we teach toddlers when we hand them a toy they want.  Before we hand it to them, we prompt them to say ‘May I please have that?’ and when we put the toy in their hands we then prompt a ‘Thank-you’.  This is me prompting you when it comes to corresponding with publishers.  ‘Would you be so kind as to consider my manuscript for your publication?  Thank you for your consideration’.  Does that seem difficult?  Publishers get hundreds, even thousands of submissions a year.  Showing an amount of graciousness for the time it takes to consider your work is very much appreciated by the publisher.  Time is of the essence in that line of work.   It also shows them that you know what you’re doing.  Graciousness can keep you out of the slush pile.
  • Stay Positive.  I realize how tempted you may be to tear someone a new one for having the audacity to reject your work.  After all, you’ve spent countless hours on it and you pride yourself on your work.  You believe in it, so why shouldn’t everyone else? Publishing doesn’t work like that.  Refrain from being negative because eventually that negativity will reflect within your writing.  You’ll focus more upon the publication portion of writing and neglect the soul of the writing.  Write out a list of goals you want to achieve in your writing career and check them off as you go along.  Eventually you’ll make it.  With this line of work it takes a lot of dedication and love of writing to succeed.  It also takes a lot of time, so don’t quit your day job just yet.

I read a book by Noah Lukeman  based upon some of the questions he received on being a literary agent.  ‘Ask a Literary Agent (Year One) is a brilliant book that everyone should take a look at before they start submitting their work.  If you can’t find it on Amazon, check out the website.   I received it free via Amazon a few years ago and I found the information within it invaluable.  Mr. Lukeman has also put out a number of books pertaining to writing and the craft that you may want to check out as well.

  • Research. What a lot of writers neglect to do is research their market. In order to be the best writer you can be, you need to be in a constant state of learning.  By that I mean, you must know the ropes in the literary world as well as have the capacity to write well.  Sounds like an awful lot, doesn’t it?  When I first started submitting my work back in high school, I didn’t realize how very difficult it was.  I didn’t realize how much I needed to know.   Most people want to skip all the trivial things like market research and go right into submission.  I mean, it took so long to write the story, right?  All that time editing the piece and making it shine, the beta readers, and everything else?  Now…what?  Now I have to study the market?  Go to…*gulp* the website and find out what these publications accept and what they reject?  If I’m unfamiliar with the work they accept I should…*bigger gulp*…get a few copies of the books or issues they publish and read them?    That’s exactly what I’m saying.  The more you know, the better equipped you will be.  If you study the market, you will know exactly what a particular publisher will and will not accept.  From there, you refine your writing or seek out a different publisher.  If you’re still rejected, chances are the publishers are bogged down with submissions or its just not right for the publication.  Worst case is that its one of those pieces of writing that just wasn’t meant to be published.  Maybe it does have publication potential and your timing is just horrible.  Sometimes there are manuscripts that go years without being accepted.  Sometimes timing is the reason why you’re rejected.
  • If You Don’t Have Anything Nice To Say…this goes without saying.  Really.  The moment we witness someone acting out of line we point it out.   Remember that one lady at the checkout line throwing a fit over the price of a can of soup the other day?  Do you remember rolling your eyes at her and thinking to yourself ‘Wow, chill.  Just get a different brand…”  Isn’t it funny that the moment when we start acting out is when we throw that courtesy to the wind and allow our own emotions to take over?   I’m even guilty of it.  There have been times when I was so upset or so disappointed in how a situation played out that I opened my mouth and made the situation worse because of it.  When I calmed down and reflected upon the situation, I imagine how much better I could have taken it.  Hindsight is 20/20, though and I have learned a lot throughout the years, especially how to handle myself when it comes to rejection.  When it comes to our professional careers, we have to keep that temper and our mouths in check.  We also have to keep in mind that the world doesn’t owe us anything, that each publication we make it into is an honor and should be celebrated.  Each rejection should be celebrated as well.  It takes an awful lot to pick yourself up, dust off, and keep going.  Some authors can’t see past that first rejection letter to the opportunities that lay ahead.  Those opportunities include the chance to grow as a professional, the chance to exceed as an author, and the joy that one receives when a story is finally accepted.  Its really disheartening to see an author take rejection so badly that they up and quit doing what they love.  If you write to be published, you’re writing for the wrong reasons.

Don’t view rejection as the end of the world or the end of your writing career.  Don’t think that the publisher is out to get you and is purposefully taking a jab at you by not including your work in their magazine or publication.  Take a look at The Writer’s Market and you’ll see that there are thousands of publications, even more so now considering how many e-zines that have surfaced through recent years.  If one publication rejects you, keep submitting.  According to Noah Lukeman, on average one should be submitting work to at least fifty publications at a time.  It’s exhausting, sure, but worth it in the end.  There may or may not be a place in this world for your submission-it’s honestly a gamble.  If you have a solid manuscript, if you behave in a manner that is both professional and courteous, then you will have a stronger hand in the industry.

Also, don’t be afraid to reject yourself.  If you’re unsure about your own work, chances are you’ll receive the same response from a publisher.

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