A Northwest Based Literary Journal

How Editing Changed My View of Submitting

In our last reading period I read and assessed almost 400 fiction submissions. Of those submissions I tagged 45 short stories for additional consideration, which means that I found them of publishable quality. Forty-five stories, and we planned to run four, maybe five. That meant saying “no” to 40 writers whose work should be published. Maybe other journals will pick up the stories, maybe not. Maybe, despite the excellence of the work, some of those stories will never see publication.

As a writer I exist on the other side of that editorial divide as well. I still submit my work to literary journals, and still endure almost daily rejection. It has never been an easy aspect of the writing life to accept. But reading the stories we get has helped me realize something about my fiction. As good as it is (and what writer doesn’t think of his/her work as great?) my stories are merely a cupful in the sea of submissions. There are thousands of writers whose work deserves publication just as much as mine does—I now get to read their stories and see the quality. It’s then I think about how I used to view rejections, the same way many writers still view them: as a personal insult, a putdown, a bitch slap from some elitist editor who’d rather solicit work from some “name” writer instead of publishing a great story by an unknown[1].

When reading submissions in the final rounds of selection I tell myself to be tough. I tell myself to look for any flaw in the manuscript as a reason for rejection: misspellings, grammar mistakes, bad margins, an undotted i. But as I read and become intrigued by the narratives, I find myself instead trying to find a way to fit just one more piece into the issue. It’s then I have to stop reading because there’s no way I can make it happen. I have to stop reading because I need to reset and toughen my editorial eye. But also I have to stop reading because I’m reminded of my own stories, my own submissions, which I imagine might be subject to the same process, and might be in that “close but not selected” folder on some other editor’s computer.

Editing has changed how I look at rejection from the writer’s side of submitting. It’s helped me ease the frustration that comes with submission/rejection, and look at it as a process, one as necessary as doing laundry or taking out the garbage (and about as pleasant). All I can do, and all I can advise, is that writers submit regularly to give their work its best chance. Make it a routine, an impersonal part of the writing life. Mark your calendar for a set day of submissions each month. If you submit to journals with fees, create a budget. Make a submission strategy a part of your business of writing.

As for the other side of that writing wall, perhaps in time I’ll harden my editorial heart. Perhaps I’ll become an editor who has no trouble saying “no” to hundreds of submitters without a second thought, who no longer encourages the writers who came close to acceptance. Maybe I’ll even think of submitters as a great mass of unwashed wannabes, whose submissions are a necessary annoyance because their submission fees keep the journal afloat. Maybe I’ll get to a point where I refuse to engage them at all. But as a writer as well as an editor I know that on the day I feel that way, it will be time to quit this business.

[1] For the record, TLR does not solicit work from anyone—all our selections come through the submission queue.

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