I Submit to You
By Michael J. Soloway
The Rule of Twenty-Five
Sheepshead Review. Serving House. Newfound. Northwind. Palooka. Thin Air magazine (4x). fwriction review. Utter magazine. Superstition Review. TINGE Magazine. The Boiler Journal. Passages North. Thomas J. Hrushka Memorial Nonfiction Prize (3x). Prick of the Spindle. The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review. Hippocampus Magazine. Ploughshares—just to name a few.
In all, I’ve received more than twenty-five rejections over the past thirteen months. They come in all shapes and sizes, with their own length and own voice. Like poems all titled, “Unfortunately…” Some offer compliments and encouragement; others simply cut you off at the knees and leave you feeling paralyzed with fear and insecurity. But a loss is a loss, whether it’s by thirty points or one.
Rejection is part of life, part of The Writing Life. But it’s also a word I associate with immaturity. After all, this isn’t one of those dreams where you’re late for a test without your No. 2 pencil; it isn’t high school. There is no prom to obsess over or folded notes to pass to potential dates—even though, at times, it may feel that way, as you ask yourself: Why not me? What’s wrong with me? I say: Nothing, especially if you haven’t even taken the plunge and submitted your work yet! And that doesn’t mean sending pages to your parents or friends or “one contest years ago.” Hilary Homzie, a children’s author at Hollins University, and a former mentor of mine, once told me: “You should always have twenty-five pieces of work in process at any one time.” Twenty-five? Yes, twenty-five. Five projects you’re writing; five you’re editing; five query letters you’re producing; five pieces you’re in the process of submitting; and five you’re waiting to hear back from an editor, agent, or publisher. Like sales, or any other business, it’s a numbers game—which simply means persistence is rewarded.
The Rebuff is Not Just For Cars
What’s the difference between a writer and an author? Have you ever turned this over in your mind? We call ourselves writers, but aren’t we already writers, all of us. Everyday, whether you’re writing or not, you are a writer; if you’re reading this then you most certainly are.
Perception and self-actualization is vital to growth and a continued formation of a positive identity. It’s time to start thinking of yourself as not only a writer, but an author as well. Whether you’ve published an essay or article or book or poem or blog or chapbook or a piece of haiku that began on a dinner napkin or if you haven’t published at all, give yourself permission to be an author. After all, we have Author pages on Facebook, not Writer pages. Be positive, then stay positive. Have your “Author’s Bio” ready. Know, deep down in your heart, that you’ll need it soon enough.
Along with my thirty aught rebuffs (a word I prefer over rejection, because it reminds me of polishing, that my work simply needs another run-through and that it’s not me that’s being rejected), I’ve also had successes this year as well—three essays and two memoir excerpts in seven different literary magazines over those same thirteen months. How have I done this? Quality work is only one ingredient to success. But courage and persistence is, by far, key to turning pages in an attic into pages into “print.” By rebuffing your work, and putting that first toe into what can sometimes be murky waters, you’ll be well on your way to becoming published—never immune to rejection, but an author ready to build upon success. After all, a translucent ocean does not reflect like the black sheen on the surface of a dark summer lake, it’s mystery reflecting your own image back at you, an identity that’s actually clear, if you stare long enough and catch the right amount of light.
Time is Relative (A Distant Cousin, Twice Removed)
Excuses are never about time; they’re about energy.
Time, after all, is just a state of mind—we make time for what we want to make time for. “I can’t go to the gym, I don’t have time.” “I can’t cook dinner, I don’t have time.” “I can’t write a query letter, I don’t have time.” I have the same excuses: a full-time job, school, family, which includes a 21-month-old daughter. And I had the same self doubts you may have over your shoulder like a backpack—something to keep your work safe, but oh so heavy to lug around. I used to think one rejection meant my work was “no good.” Giving up is easy. But the only notion you should be giving up at this point is expectation.
A friend and peer, who many of you know from the Wilkes Creative Writing Program, Danielle Poupore’s, MFA (AKA, Danielle E. Curtis), essay, “Lilac Blossoms: A Dead Squirrel Story” was rebuffed fourteen times before being published in Split Lip magazine in March. Persistence, perseverance, and faith in your own words are your greatest tools. Use them to your advantage. Time is not the enemy. It’s simply a distant relative passing through town looking for a place to “crash” for the night. Learn to invite them in with open arms; embrace the time you do have, even if the only room you have left in your soul at the end of the day is a worn couch without pillows. There is pride and reward in effort.
It’s “Submittable” and More
Once you have a submittable story, set of stories, or script, depending on your genre, visit Poets & Writers website (www.pw.org). In the top navigation, find “Tools for Writers.” Underneath that you’ll see “Contests,” “Lit Mags,” and “Small Presses.” Once there, you can segment your search by Genre, Subgenre, Format, and Payment. And don’t get overwhelmed by your search results. There are 885 literary magazines that pop up without conducting an Advanced Search. But if I specify, “Creative Nonfiction” and “Autobiography/Memoir,” then my results are a much more manageable 133. Remember, this is a numbers game, but not a race. Concentrate on upcoming deadlines first, then make a commitment to submit a piece at least once a month. Follow the Rule of 25s, but unlike writing goals, submissions are not supposed to be part of a daily routine. I submitted my essays and excerpts sporadically over an entire year.
Most online magazines have made the transition to electronic submissions, which not only makes it easier to submit your work but also to track them through a system called “Submittable.” Once you make your first submission, and your account is set up, you can check the status of a piece any time of day. Be sure to read each publication’s submission guidelines carefully—word count limits, publication deadlines, and anything else that a specific journal prefers. There are still many “traditional” publications that will require a more detailed project description, query letter, or even a paper submission.
“Simultaneous Submissions” is your best friend. Find magazines that accept them and send, send, send. Just be sure to follow their instructions. If one of your pieces gets picked up, then notify the other magazines immediately so they can take your submission out of consideration—unless, of course, they permit reprints. I’ve had two essays “reprinted,” so look for those opportunities as well. And don’t forget about contests. Just be aware, most have submission fees. So, that option can get costly. On the flipside, contests offer monetary awards and oftentimes, major publication opportunities. Look for contests no more than $15 per entry. There are literally thousands, depending upon your genre.
Another word of advice—don’t expect payment, if your work is accepted. We all want to make a living at writing, but right now the focus should be on getting published, putting your name out there into the Universe, and forming a strong identity as an author. As of September, when my seventh piece is scheduled for publication, I will have earned exactly $45 from my yearlong submission/publishing efforts. So, if you’re looking for a mammoth payday, consider becoming an actuary or a nurse anesthetist.
Sticks and Stones
Rejection is not a 4-letter word, even though it may elicit a few when you get that response from an editor, agent, publication, or contest. Just remember, reject and accept have the same number of letters. The word you would rather hear is obvious, but one rejection does not an author make. They’re just sticks and stones. But the forest ahead doesn’t have to be so bleak. Turn any rebuff into feathers and leaves falling harmlessly at your feet and keep walking until you reach a clearing—every deep wood has one.
So, what am I really trying to say? Who do I think I am? Today, I hope I’m your drill sergeant, your platoon leader. I’m your inspiration, your mentor. I’m your best friend, your confidante. I’m that devil on your shoulder; I’m that saint.
Today, I’m an author. And so are you.
Being a writer is a complicated relationship. Don’t just look for The One. Find the many—you deserve to be an author for years to come.
So, what now you may ask? In the words of a wise mentor, teacher, writer, author, and friend, Kevin Oderman: “Onward.” I submit to you—there’s no place else to go.
Michael J. Soloway grew up eating oranges, catching lizards, and listening to the gasp of tennis ball cans being opened in south Florida. He received his Masters Degree in Creative Writing from Wilkes University and will earn his MFA in January 2014. In addition, Michael has served as managing editor of more than a dozen nonprofit magazines and just finished his first memoir Share the Chameleon, about attempting to break his family’s cycle of abuse, as he becomes a father for the first time in his 40s. Brevity Magazine published Michael’s short essay, “Introducing Mother Nature,” in 2012. In addition, Split Lip magazine published his nonfiction essay, “Sticks and Stones,” about his grandmother’s slide into dementia, in March 2013. His work has also appeared in Red Fez, Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts, and Under the Gum Tree magazines. An excerpt from Share the Chameleon will appear in Split Lip magazine in September 2013.