Let’s Talk About Submitting Fiction

You may have reached the stage where you have written your stories, shown your friends, family and strangers at parties; you have gone to a writers’ group and may have thought one of the following: (A) what a lovely, supportive bunch, (B) what a lovely bunch of back stabbing bastards, and; (C) c**nts. Either way, you may be at that point where you are thinking that you’d like to see it in print, that you’d like to be at a party and when you tell someone you are writer you can say where you have been published rather than the painful shuffle that comes with non-publication. The feeling of being a fraud never goes away, we will look at that another day and how you should embrace it. The problem with being a writer or poet is the rejection that comes with it, rejection from parties because you’re no longer the right fit, rejection from your friends who simply cannot understand why you would want to sit in a darkened room banging away at a keyboard when there is no porn involved. Last of all, is rejection from publishers and editors, these rejection slips, as they were once referred to can be cold or helpful. I am fortunate enough to have had a famous rejection slip off the late and lovely, Alan Ross of The London Magazine, I had several over the years in which he stated: ‘down play the enjambment’, ‘you’re getting better as a poet, please send me more’ and his final note to me, ‘I loved these poems but they don’t fit this issue, submit more soon’. Alan, though you died, you’d be proud to know that a few years later I had around four poems published in The London Magazine and was asked to write an article for it too. Sometimes rejection can come from afar or even be forgotten, Vince Gotera of the wonderful North American Review would regularly read my work and reject it, then one day I submitted some poetry and never heard off him; the fraud in me raised it’s head and shouted, ‘Oh god, he knows, he knows, he’s telling everyone I am a phoney’. I hid from emailing him for over six months, finally I plucked up the courage to ask him whether he managed to reject my last submission and he was apologetic; you see, they’d published it and the email telling me was sat in my spam box. The moral of that story is always check your spam but post going astray is nothing new in this game back in the time of self addressed envelopes, work would often go missing and it was only years later when bumping into editors did I have the conversation that ran: (1) I have read your work, it was great, (2) Why did you never reply to my letter confirming publication? And; (3) I was so pissed off with you. The counter conversations would always run along the lines of: (1) Royal Mail is shit. Happiness would ensue. Phone numbers swapped. Work submitted and published a decade after the initial contact.

However, there are times when you submit work and the reply is instant, within a few days and you see the email, you are excited, you think that this is the one and you click on it and it is polite rejection. At least they were quick. At least the pain is quick because rejection is painful for a moment because good work will always find a home, sooner or later. I once had a story rejected by every magazine I wanted it to be in. I put it in drawer, tear stains across it because I knew it was a good story. Seven years later a publisher came along asking for unusual crime stories. Hell, that story in the drawer paid homage to Poe’s Orangutan, I too had a killer ape, but my detective was obnoxious and dies at the hands of it. I was wary, surely if I had been rejected by all those magazines, no one else would want it. M.Y. Alam, the editor of the collection, wanted it; he suggested some changes, a page was lost and the story was published, dead detective and gun toting chimpanzee and all. I was surely on my way? No, rejections came still, there are years when I get published nearly every month. A few years back I had the heady claim that throughout the summer of 2007 I was published every week. Then there was 2008 where I didn’t get published anywhere beyond non-fiction work and I became wary of saturation, because this is what one editor said, ‘I’ve seen you everywhere and I want to see someone else’. There is an argument for a pseudonym here, and I did for a while and yes, I got published but inevitably the publishers felt like I cheated them, as if I sneaked in through the back door and taken the petty cash. So, here I am a decade later under my real name, still getting published, still getting rejected, still writing and that is what it is about. So, remember if you get rejected you are joining every writer, artist, poet, singer, lover that has ever been, and that’s some good company to be in.

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