Damn! A Literary Journal Just Rejected The Best Story I’ve Ever Written
by Jennifer Harvey Views: 3910
Question: Have you ever wondered what the acceptance rates are for literary journals?
No? Care to hazard a guess? 50%? 40%? 30%?
The actual figures may surprise (though perhaps not delight) you.
A quick search on Duotrope of ten randomly selected journals which publish flash fiction turns up the following results for acceptance rates:
Bartelby Snopes 5.74%
Sundog Lit 3.76%
Tin House 8.8%
Pithead Chapel 4.97%
Bitterzoet Magazine 9.68%
The Citron Review 2.79%
Ink Sweat And Tears 31%
The Kenyon Review 0.23%
This is, of course, a random sample, but, nevertheless, it is quite telling.
Let’s look at those outliers for example.
At one end we have The Kenyon Review which rejects 99.77% of submissions, and at the other, Ink Sweat and Tears which rejects 69%.
Whichever way you look at it those rejection figures are high.
Which means one thing: in all probability your story is going to be rejected. Yours and 99.7% of the others stories too.
Here’s another question: How are you going to react to this?
I’ll come clean here and confess to the following reactions, which you may wish to consider:
- Swear out loud. Really loud. Take as long as you like. Use the worst curses in your artillery. You’ve got to get this stuff out of your system sometimes.
- Brood and sulk. Remember back in the day when you were thirteen? Well, channel that. You have a right to be in a bad mood. A literary journal just rejected the best story you’ve ever written. Again.
- Eat chocolate biscuits (or whatever your particular indulgence happens to be). The whole packet if you like. Why not? After all, a literary journal just rejected the best story you’ve ever written. Again.
- Go for a long run and try to get some of those endorphins flowing through your bloodstream. Pound those pavements and feel the happiness return with every footstep. After 5 kilometres you won’t care anymore that a literary journal just rejected …
- Get on your high horse. Who do they think they are? They know nothing about great art, nothing! Unlike you. You who have just written the best story ever submitted to a literary journal.
After all these cathartic shenanigans, however, you’ll need to start thinking clearly again. Because if you don’t, you risk doing something you may regret.
You’ll bash out a snarky e-mail to the editors of that no-good literary journal.
And you do not want to do this.
Sure, write it, if you must. Put your all into it. Make it the best snarky e-mail you’ve ever written.
Just don’t send it.
Because if you do, you’ll make a name for yourself in the world of literary journals. Just not the name you were hoping to make for yourself.
You’ll be known as “that writer who can’t take rejection.”
Now, at this stage you may be looking back at those statistics and thinking “Okay, but 99% of those stories submitted to The Kenyon Review can’t be unpublishable, surely?”
The answer is: No. The majority of them are probably perfectly good stories. It’s just that for whatever reason, the editors didn’t think they were a good fit for their journal.
So let’s take a look at what some of those reasons could be and some of the solutions:
Your story didn’t follow the submissions guidelines – it’s too long, too short, the wrong genre.
Every literary journal has a page listing their submissions guidelines. Read them and make sure your submission follows the guidelines. This may sound like common sense and barely worth mentioning, but you’d be surprised at how many submissions come in to journals that have not followed the guidelines.
Your story was still at the draft stage and contains errors in plot, language, character development, etc.
Let a story breathe after you’ve finished that first draft. Come back to it after a few days and read it. Chances are you’ll see many things you want to change and will catch a fair few spelling and grammar mistakes as well. Take time to craft your best story.
Remember that editors of literary journals often work unpaid. Theirs is a labour of love and they are careful curators of their journals. So take care with your story too. It will show and it will be appreciated.
Your story isn’t a fit in terms of the style or aesthetic sense of the journal.
Read the journals you submit to. At least a few of the stories. Get a feel for the language, the plotlines, the characters, and the quality of the work they prefer. Then read your own story. Does it actually fit alongside the works this journal publishes? If not, then perhaps it is better to find a journal closer to your own story’s aesthetic.
Sure, this will take time, but, as I mentioned, editors take a lot of care and time in putting an issue together. Submissions that come from writers that have read the journal and are familiar with the type of story the journal publishes will get noticed (even if they don’t get published).
At the end of the day sometimes you just have bad luck. A sifter or reader in a reading committee simply doesn’t like your story. It’s a simple matter of taste. This does not mean your story is bad or unpublishable; it just means it was not that particular reader’s cup of tea.
Most journals are aware of the subjectivity in evaluating stories, however, and work with a reading committee system to control for this. Sifters and different level readers pass a story up the line if it has received a thumbs up from the previous reader. So don’t assume that your story is at the mercy of one fickle reader. Chances are it’s not.
This is without doubt the most difficult reason to deal with. You’ve read your story, checked it for errors, followed the guidelines and know that it’s good for the journal you submitted it to, yet still that rejection e-mail has arrived.
The only solutions in this case are to revise your story further, or believe in it and send it elsewhere. Pick yourself up and dust yourself down.
If you want to go down the revision route, check out the article I wrote previously about ways to improve your story.
Sometimes a re-draft is needed and there is an art to this.
If all else fails, go back to those statistics again and think about what they mean.
Most writers will face rejection and they will face it often. Getting accepted by even the most generous journal is difficult – in our list above, the highest acceptance level was still only 31%. So 69% of the writers submitting to them are rejected.
It’s a competitive world you’ve entered, alas. Many, many great writers are out there submitting and receiving their fair share of acceptances and rejections.
It’s the unfortunate reality.
So to end I have one final set of questions.
Give up? Or keep writing?
Jennifer is one of our judges at MASH. Her fiction has appeared in Carve Magazine and Stories For Homes anthology. Her radio drama won the 2001 European Regional Prize in the BBC World Service International Playwriting competition and a commendation in 2009. Her poetry has appeared in The Guardian as part of their poetry workshops series. Contact Jen via Twitter.