Michelle Wittle On Rejections and Submissions


I get rejection letters all the time. Most of them
are the generic “thanks, but no thanks.” Before I went to grad school for my
MFA, I would have been crushed by a letter like that. I would take the impersonal
rejection letter as a complete failure on my part as a writer. I would assume
that cold rejection letter meant I should stop writing all together and find a
different creative outlet, like maybe needlepoint.

However, now I see that rejection letter for what it
really means. At this time, what I sent was not right for the current issue of
the magazine. It does not mean I should hang up my pen and grab some thread. I
shouldn’t toss my computer in the garbage or sell it on craigslist for
twenty-five bucks. The rejection letter means this piece isn’t what the
literary magazine is looking for right now.

I won’t resubmit the same piece later to the
magazine. It isn’t because I think the tide will change and in a few months they
will see how perfectly it fits. It’s because I’m busy sending that same story
out to other places. I believe in my story enough to know it deserves to be
published. It’s my job and duty to my work to find the right place for it.

I’ve also found when I have multiple projects
happening, the rejection letters become easier to handle.

Writing is an art and a business. The art comes from
obviously creating the piece. The business comes when it’s time to get that
piece out into the public. I think many writers take the business part too
personally. Remember, it’s not personal; it’s business. So why not take that
approach to submissions? Here are my suggestions:

  1. Believe
    in your piece. If you don’t think it’s ready, don’t put it out there.
  2. Research
    about twenty magazines. Look at their websites. Look at what they publish.
    Evaluate your piece. Would it fit there? Yes?
  3. Read
    their submission guidelines. Then follow them.
  4. Send
    out one story to five places.
  5. Work
    on something else.
  6. When
    you get your first rejection letter, read it. If it isn’t helpful, delete it
    and send out the piece to the sixth place on your list. Each time it gets
    rejected, send it back out to a new place and continue working through your
  7. Keep
    working on something new. This will help focus your efforts on the creative
    output and not bog you down with worry about why your piece keeps getting
  8. Keep
    in mind it’s a lot of work to get a piece published. But since you believe in
    your piece, you will continue looking for its new home.
  9.   When it
    gets accepted, contact the other magazines and ask to withdraw your story.
  10. Repeat
    this process with that new piece you were working on while you were waiting for
    the first piece to find a home.

The bottom line: do not take the rejection
personally because it isn’t meant to be that way. Most magazines are looking to
promote writers, not rip them apart. The rejection doesn’t mean it’s a bad
piece and you shouldn’t stop writing because of a rejection. Brush yourself off
and send the piece back out.

4 thoughts on “Michelle Wittle On Rejections and Submissions

  1. I think that the part about reading the guidelines and following them is especially important. It is not rare for me to get submissions that show the writer had not real clue about the nature of our journal. If you feel spammed as an editor, it is a lot tougher to work up helpful or meaningful replies when you turn pieces down.

    Michael Northen

    1. I agree. It really saves everyone time in the longrun and it gives the writer a better change of getting an acceptance letter. No one likes feeling spammed and no one likes being rejected. Doing the research really is a win/win for everyone. Thanks so much for your comment.

      1. I used to work with an editor who had a great saying. “Yes means yes, no means nothing.” I’ve always kept that in mind when sending out my own writing.

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