On not self-rejecting…

Photo: Shakespeare Unleashed, edited by James Aquilone for Monstrous Books and Crystal Lake Publishing, which I submitted to AND THEY LET ME IN!

It’s mid March, the sun is shining, I’m in a relatively good mood, and I’m thinking about self-rejecting–or, more accurately, NOT self-rejecting.

I hear a lot, and I used to say sometimes, “I’m not going to bother submitting to that. I’ll never get in.” Now I’m like, “How do YOU know? You aren’t the editor. Submit that story!” (Or poem or essay or manuscript.)

Have you ever submitted a story to a submissions call that seemed like it was MADE for your story? Like they were a perfect match–everything the editors wanted, your story had? And then, your story got rejected anyway? And you were thinking, WTF, I gave you everything! Yeah. I think we’ve all been there.

So here’s the thing: IT WORKS THE OTHER WAY AROUND, TOO.

You might think your piece isn’t “good enough,” or that it doesn’t quite fit a theme, or does in a WAY, but not in all the ways. Maybe you think the editor has a pronounced different style or aesthetic.

But. Like. What if your piece is just the variety they need? What if they don’t have that narrative arc or subject or theme in any of the other stories they chose?

Jenny Kiefer, author of That Wretched Valley (Quirk Books, 2024) and owner of the popular Kentucky horror bookshop Butcher Cabin Books, has gotten several publications with just that line of though. “Honestly most of my acceptances have been things where I just sent a story to a market I didn’t think would like it. I’ve experienced rejections more when I’ve thought it was perfect for the place I submitted to. I was recently accepted to F&SF for a body horror story–I would have never thought they would like it, but I submitted anyway.”

Especially if there is no submission fee (and whoa should I write a post just about submission fees), SEND IT. There is, for real, no risk. And, see blog post about #100rejections for why we should be trying to send out enough submissions to rack up 100 Rs by the end of the year, be they form or personal.

Rae Knowles, whose novel The Stradivarius will be out soon with Brigid’s Gate Press, knows this, too. “There was a pro-pay call that I knew was getting a ton of submissions,” she said. “It was outside of my usual genre, and I wrote a story, tweaked it, tweaked it, and tweaked it some more. I stressed so much, feeling it had NO chance of being accepted, but on one of the last days of the submission window, decided to send it in. To my SHOCK, it was accepted. Lesson learned, never self-reject!”

Author and editor Alexis DuBon keeps a hand over the mouth of her inner critic:

“Try to think about whose voice it is telling you your story doesn’t work,” she recommended. “Is it your own? Or is the reason you’re hesitant something other than ‘Yeah, this story about biblically accurate angels probably doesn’t fit this call about swamp monsters.’ We bring a lot of baggage into decisions where it doesn’t belong.”

Waylon Jordan, author, horror journalist, and EIC of Off Limits Press, talks over his self-rejection impulses; he drowns them out. “I don’t know how many times I’ve had to tell myself, ‘You have just as much right to submit your story as anyone else.’ I see authors invited to calls and talk myself out or submitting because I’m not ‘in their league.’ The imposter syndrome is alive and well and I deal with it all the time. The other thing I have to tell myself is: I’m not Stephen King (or whoever famous author your want to insert). I can’t do what he does. But you know what? He can’t do what I can. Someone wants to read what I can give them.”

Author Katherine Silva (The Wild Oblivion series) picks what she submits to carefully–if she needs to get other things done, or needs to take time for herself, she’ll skip a sub call. So, ask yourself: Are you self-rejecting because of a low-self-esteem day, or, do you just have other things that need to come first?

Zach Rosenberg, author of the forthcoming Hungers As Old As This Land, gives himself a pep talk: “This is a story only you can tell and it should be told.”

Also, related to the topic self-rejection, remember that if you burn yourself out or get too discouraged by a particularly rough R (or a volley of them), and you decide to QUIT writing altogether, you are self-rejecting from the entire world of publishing.

Kiefer has a way to manage that feedback–because yes, you will get more rejections than acceptances. That’s just reality. But, if you don’t want to see those Rs every day, do what she does:

“What did help [with rejections] though was to set up a separate author email address, so I could control how much I saw. At one point I even had a friend who would monitor it and only tell me good news so I could submit without having to see the waves of rejections.”

Final decisions on publication come down to the EIC or a small team. So, it’s not like the industry voted on your work. It’s one person’s subjective decision, in most cases. And subjectivity could mean anything: maybe they’re sick of zombies or whatever tropes your narrative features. Maybe they already have something similar for that issue or anthology. Maybe they just–and this sucks, but it’s also OKAY–didn’t’ like your story enough to put it in.

But someone else will.

Unless you don’t send it to them because you self-reject.

I guess what it comes down to is this, which I said to more than one struggling writing friend: Does writing (and everything that comes with the process–drafing and revision and feedbacking and submissions and rejections) bring you more pain or more joy?

If it’s the first one, go ahead and quit. Life is short. Find something you like better.

But if it’s the second one…


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