Jade Park has a post up about waiting for responses to submissions that got me thinking of recent events in my attempts to publish. Even as I write that I realize that “events” sounds dramatic and as though there are just so many happenings when it comes to publishing my work I can’t keep track of them all.
Ha. Not true, not true.
One recent “event” was that two weeks ago or so, I received a rejection in the mail for a submission I mailed out almost exactly one year earlier. I had, in fact, long ago assumed that I had gotten the rejection already and just forgot to note it on my submission tracking spreadsheet. There’s a part of me that gets frustrated and annoyed when these letters take so long to arrive. But there’s a part of me that is hopeful and imagines the positive reason why it took so long to hear back.
At the literary magazine I worked for when I was in grad school, submissions that made the first cut, i.e were approved by an initial manuscript reader (usually a grad student or former grad student), were passed on to one of the editors on the staff. If the editor liked the manuscript it got passed on again, to another editor. And so on and on. Sometimes, because of the enormous backlog of manuscript reading everyone had, this process took a very long time. As much as a year. Sometimes, the manuscript might get through three or four people only to be rejected by a fifth. As far as I know, the responses to these almost-successful writers were not much different than the usual rejections we sent out. That is, unless you knew the inner workings of the magazine (or had a friend on staff, in which case you might get a phone call telling you of your near-miss), you, the recipient of the rejection letter, might simply think, “Great, another rejection. And it took them a year!” never once considering that your piece had been oh-so-close to being published.
This is what I think of when I get a rejection letter after a year has gone by. It’s possible the magazine that took so long to get back to me is just totally disorganized, or undergoing staff changes, or that they lost my manuscript and only just found it a month ago. But why think that when you can imagine that your piece was a near miss instead?
Despite my rah-rah “2008 Plan of Attack” I have made very little progress on polishing some essays and sending them out. Much of this lack of progress had to do with the tendinitis I was dealing with in my arm, which basically required me to rest for a couple of months. That few months of not writing really threw me off. It is much, much harder to try to build a writing routine out of nothing than it is to improve a mediocre one that is limping along (which is how I’d describe my writing routine pre-tendinitis). I am out of the habit and trying to get back into one. And that includes submitting work.
I have made some progress with writing, though much less progress with revising. I will, it seems, do anything (anything!) to avoid revising old work. I’ve begun several new essays, and completed a draft of another, but the work I really need to dive into is revising and sending out. It’s strange, I know the logic, i.e. that if I revise an essay, I can send it out, and if I send it out I’m more likely to get it published, and if I get it published I’m more likely to get other things published, etc. etc. But I still have a hard time making myself work on revisions instead of new work. (Or blogging, trying to build a freelance editing business, going to the gym, eating lunch, playing with my dog, cooking …..)
The other “event” in my publishing life was that an essay of mine that was accepted last summer by a small litmag arrived in the mail, finally, in print form. I am keeping the magazine near my desk to remind myself what can happen when a) I revise and polish, and b) I send out submissions.