So, you got yourself an idea for a story. You worked on the idea for weeks, maybe months, revision after revision. You felt really good about the finished product and send it to favorite literary magazine. A few weeks later, you finally get an email response… stating that they chose not to take your work. What gives? Well, there’s a few possibilities.
It was bad writing (it happens to all of us)
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re either a writer or interested in the process. And as any honest writer will tell you, it’s usually obvious when you’ve written something bad. Before you put the last period to paper, you already know that valuable time was wasted. Sometimes, though, bad writing sneaks up on you. It might take days or weeks to realize it, and by then it’s already in the hands of an editor. If it’s really sneaky, you might never come to the realization, or it’ll taunt you by being almost good enough without ever letting you get it there.
Having been on the writing side of a bad piece, I know how nerve-wracking waiting to hear back can be. Your mind can wander to some bad places if you let it: What if they laugh at it? What if I’m discredited, never to write again?? In all honesty, the editor doesn’t know or care enough about the writer to give that much thought into who wrote the piece. Their job is to judge writing, not people. Unless they personally know the writer (at which point, an editor should remove themselves from the piece and have others decide on its prowess), an editor judges the piece on its own merit. Along this line, one piece of writing won’t affect another, so resubmitting to a magazine you were previously rejected from is not out of the question.
Maybe there’s another reason you weren’t accepted, though…
follow the rules
Sometimes, it’s not about the quality of what you’re submitting, but rather how or to whom you’re submitting it. Each magazine is unique in its expectations; some are fine with multiple submissions, while others will turn them away. Some want bios included in the submission’s email, while others (like Chantwood) prefer a completely blind reading process, going so far as to flat-out refuse any submissions that include a bio alongside them. Each magazine should have expectations listed on their website; pay attention to these! There’s no point in sending the same document to ten magazines if six of them will immediately throw it out.
It’s also important to research a magazine to learn what kinds of writing they prefer to publish. While a good portion of lit mags are fairly general, there are several that prefer certain formats or genres. Therefore, it’s important to select the right magazine for your work. If you’ve only ever lived in Maine, Deep South Magazine probably isn’t the right fit for you, and if you only write long narratives, think twice before submitting to 100 Word Story.
Occasionally, a magazine will make it clear that they’ll turn away writing that focuses on certain topics. The best example I can give for that is the “Hard Sells” section on Chantwood’s own submissions page. It’s surprising how many pieces have come in that either dangerously toe the line or blatantly go against those outlines. Know that if you’ve written something that goes against a magazine’s guidelines, it’s likely that it won’t be considered. If you consider that a challenge, then by all means, give it a shot; we’ve received pieces that edged into dangerous territory but were good enough on their own to garner interest. And more importantly, don’t take these exclusions as an attack on your interests or your form of writing; we’ve put them there so you know what we’re looking to publish, and you can be sure whether or not our magazine is a good fit for your work.
Now, what if you’ve worked hard, gotten a great piece written, submitted it to the perfect magazine, followed all the guidelines… and still have no luck? What else could have happened? Well…
There are a number of reasons for your writing not being published that have nothing to do with the quality of writing or the guidelines. One of these is oversaturation; a magazine that publishes less than twenty pieces in two months might get over 200 submissions in that same time, meaning that less than ten percent of the writers make it in. Worse, if the editors going through submissions are only able to make it through the first hundred, then you might not even be given a chance. This is a frustrating thing for editors, as well; if you absolutely love fifty of the pieces submitted but can only publish twenty, then it becomes a long, painful task of eliminating works that were worthy of publication.
There are many other reasons that your work might not be selected – the editor isn’t emotionally invested in the subject matter, your email got lost in the shuffle, or maybe another piece similar enough won out – but whatever the reason may be, sometimes it just doesn’t happen. And it’s easy to become disheartened when a genuinely good piece of work still fails to be published. As both an editor and a fellow writer, I urge you to keep up the work. Writing never stops being a process, and you only get better with time.