Days since last rejection: 16

The coronavirus moves faster than a glacier but still flattens everything in its path. The consequences are unpredictable. In our underpaid corner of the universe, the topics will change, but the act of writing will not, nor will writers. “A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people,” said Thomas Mann, and no virus will alter that.

I wonder, though, how publishing will change. This plague might thin the herd of magazines and publishers and even hasten the end of print. I’ll never be invited to deliver the keynote at a major book festival if we can’t hold a book festival.

Here’s the obvious thing I’ve noticed: I had submitted stories to 16 litmags (including a litmag called LitMag) well before the coronavirus hit. Those submissions are all still out there. No acceptances. No rejections. No editors begging me to send more because they just can’t make up their minds. I guess everyone’s busy washing their hands and shotgunning British police procedurals and keeping away from everyone else.

Lately, I’ve asked several writers what they think of submitting stories in these strange times. Don’t we all have better things to do, like trying to stay alive? But wouldn’t it help these zines to pay their contest fees so they have at least some money coming in? Shouldn’t we all be doing work that means something to us and keeps our hopes alive?

I don’t have any answers, and the writers I approached haven’t said a thing. They don’t know me and probably think I’m a hacker in a Russian server farm. So what I decided to do is wait until some editor somewhere replies to me – that will give proof through the night that our publishing industry is still there. Then I’ll hit the SEND button.

Take care of yourselves. Keep writing.

What to do with rejections

Writing is one of the best vocations you can pursue during a pandemic. Most writers are experts at self-isolating; at parties we’re happy to avoid the black-clad groupings and their brittle banter and instead hang at the buffet tables where we can stuff our pockets with spring rolls, meatballs, or whatever comes our way. Also, most writers make no money. Is the economy running wild? Is it hiding under the bed? It’s all the same to us.

Today we’re going to talk about rejections, the one thing the coronavirus can’t kill, though I haven’t received one since March 13. What can you do with rejections? In the 20th century I could tape them to the wall or fly them, on fire, out the window, but in the 21st century almost everything is automated, online, and impervious to sarcasm.

Professional writers counsel you to pay attention only to those rejections that actually say something about your story. Good advice, but the lengthiest rejection I’ve received in 20 years informed me that I am a misogynist. Is this why my wife moved me to the garage? She said it was social distancing.

I’ve discovered that there are only two things you can do with rejections.

  1. Laugh at them.
  2. Figure out how many rejections your accepted stories endured before they were accepted. Whatever the number is for your most-rejected, accepted story, that is the number beyond which you should never go.

In the last century, where I used to get paid for what I wrote, I never sold a story that had more than 10 rejections. In this century, where I don’t get paid for what I write, I’ve never had a story accepted that had more than 21 rejections. Therefore, by this reckoning, I should give up on any story that returns home with a dead mouse with that 22nd rejection.

As my Dad always said, “Do what I say, not what I do.” The story of mine that has received the most rejections from editors here in the 21st century now has 55 of the things…including the charge of misogyny and a confused note from another editor complaining that the narrator saw “harsh realities” as “humorous.” He didn’t say how misogyny fit into that.

But I still believe it’s a good story! I don’t care that it might chalk up another 45 rejections, assuming the coronavirus doesn’t kill off every magazine and website that publishes fiction. I can’t give up on it. But I still advise you to count your rejections and discover how your stories perform. My system doesn’t help me, but it might help you.

Days since last rejection: 5