Five journals said no. Now what?

Rejection is hard, especially after you worked on that piece for months and months. You spent all that time polishing and revising, seemingly to no avail. You dutifully submitted that piece to one journal at a time, waited for each to respond, received “thanks, but no thanks” emails, and repeated this process five (or more) times.

“Nobody wants my work,” you wail. “I don’t understand why! It’s as perfect as it can be! I worked out all the kinks! I tweaked until it hurt! Ahhhh!”


Now breathe again.

All is not hopeless.

When is the last time you critiqued your own work? Sat down with it and the red (or purple or green or blue) pen and treated it the way an editor would?

What’s that you say? Never?

Time to think like an editor.

I’m going to assume that you did everything you could to understand what each of those five journals wanted. You read a couple of issues, fully understood the submission guidelines, didn’t make any rookie mistakes. Perhaps these journals have very low acceptance rates. If so, good on you for striving for the top! But with that striving comes a high rate of failure. (oh. well. crap.)

Again, all is not hopeless.

We can’t all be published by the top of the top journals. Certainly not right away. Certainly not without a piece that is so striking and perfect for them that they fall over themselves to say yes. Certainly not if you don’t have a name. (What? Is she actually suggesting that because I’m not famous my work isn’t worthy of consideration?! I’m offended!)

Don’t be offended. It’s just true. At least partially.

Many of those top of the top of top journals really do want those named, well-known, established writers dominating their pages. Nothing wrong with that, really! And these pubs often give unknown writers a chance when the piece that writer has submitted is Just. That. Good. (And a good fit for that publication.)

So back to thinking like an editor.

It’s something that’s quite uncomfortable when you first begin to practice. It’s a little like stabbing yourself in the eye with a dull pencil. But it is worth it because you will learn more about the appeal, the marketability, and the attractiveness of your piece for a given audience. (Marketability! How crass! Yes, marketability. Do you want to be published or not?)

You might discover that your opener is actually, well, a bit boring or explanatory or the opposite of striking. Good! That’s a good discovery because you can fix that. Craft a stronger lede, as my journalist background would say. A catchy, compelling, strong opening sentence (opening paragraph, opening scene) is essential to get the editor’s attention in the first place. Without that, the editor will stop reading and never see your brilliant turn of phrase on page two. She never got past sentence two.

Perhaps you’ll discover that you editorialize too much. Or that your ending doesn’t really tie into your introduction in a cohesive, complete manner. Or that you ramble on in the middle. Or your transitions between scenes are stultifying. (Did she just say stultifying?! Wtf is that? Look it up. Good word to know.)

Another place to look is your title. Does your title really reflect and reinforce your story? If you suck at titles, as I often do, writing one can be quite difficult. To capture the spirit and purpose of your piece in a few words is a daunting task, but worth the time and energy to craft a good one. Ask your writing group to weigh in and give you alternate title suggestions. If your group is anything like mine, they will come up with the perfect title and you’ll end up sitting back and scratching your head, wondering why you couldn’t think of such a perfect title for your own work! But the beauty of a writing group is the help – you don’t have to struggle with these details alone. Ask for help and be grateful when someone who cares about you and your writing sees what you don’t see.

Now go think like an editor and tear that five-time loser apart to discover where you need to revise. 🙂

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