It’s an old joke: a man tries to cure his headache by banging his head against the wall. This is the life of a fiction writer trying to get published. I can’t speak for non-fiction as I don’t write it, except for now, but there are hordes of fiction writers out there. Some are like the gentleman who said he creates stories in his mind every day but doesn’t write them down. Some day he will. At that moment he will join the rest of us in the ocean called “sending it out.” We are like a school of fish, friendly little fish, but fish that are all swimming in the same direction. For this gentleman I feel I should give a fair idea of what it’s like to get a piece of fiction published.
Let’s take a hypothetical writer who for this piece I will call, me. I write a short story one day and immediately see it as a hit. It’s raw and needs help, but I know it has the makings of brilliance. I rewrite it a couple times. It’s getting better; I think it’s almost there. I bring it to my writing group. They love it, but have a few suggestions. I take home their copious revisions for review. Some I like, some I don’t agree with, and so begins another round of rewriting. I look for repeated, unnecessary words. I change things around. I let it sit for a week or two and look at it again. Rewrite it again. It’s damn near perfect.
Now I start to look for appropriate venues to send it to, both online and in print. I read, and read, and read, and there it is—the perfect literary magazine. In fact that’s its name, The Perfect Literary Magazine. I follow all the guidelines and send it off. It will take four to six months to hear back from the PLM but they don’t ask for exclusivity so I keep reading and looking for places to send it. Some reject me in no time at all. It takes longer for others. Some kind editors tell me why they are rejecting it, maybe even make suggestions. Most do not.
In the meantime, I begin to rewrite it some more. I rewrite the beginning, change the ending. Now I’m unhappy because I sent it to PLM way too early and it is a much better story now. Sure enough, six months down the road The Perfect Literary Magazine sends me an email: “Dear Me, We read your story with great interest . . . blah, blah, blah.”
I am crestfallen. The last rewrite was so much better. Why did I send it off so soon? I think about moving it from my short story folder to the works in progress folder, otherwise known as the never-to-be-seen-again folder. I think about drinking in the afternoon.
But wait—I have been sending it out all this while. I have forgotten how many places I have sent it due to the fact that I can’t stand to look at my submissions log for fear of day-long depression. One was a magazine that asked for my best work. In fact that’s its name: Send Us Your Best Work.
One day I open my email and see that there is a message from Send Us Your Best Work. I moan. Oh no, another rejection. But this time the first word in the email is “Congratulations!” They love it! They want to publish it in the next issue! They have only a few, minor, suggestions.
I am ecstatic, of course, but I wonder—why does my head hurt so much?