I recently submitted a short story I wrote. I’m rather new at this, so I sent it out to twenty-four magazines, believing my little story would be published in a widely circulated magazine. For two or three months, I waited hoping for that magical moment when I read “Congratulations,” but the only thing I received was twenty-four rejection letters. In my mind the story about a young woman and her challenging mother was a universal one, one that other readers would relate to and connect with. Disappointed, I wanted to prove to myself I could write, so I revised the story, changed it to fit magazines that called for stories about toxic relationships, and reimagined it with music as a theme. I rewrote different parts of it, made it longer and changed the title. I resubmitted to every free submission on Submittable and since I had already submitted to well-known magazines, I began to submit to the lesser-known ones. I sent my story anywhere I hadn’t sent it before. My list of submissions grew from twenty-four to sixty. I searched the internet for every open submission. Yesterday, after five months of rejections, I received an acceptance letter. This sounds like wonderful news, but I didn’t react as I expected I would.
Yes, I should have been ecstatic, knowing some random editors liked my story so much, they wanted to publish it but I felt deflated, like a balloon that’s lost all of its air. The effort I’d put into writing this story was a monumental task. I worked so hard for this moment, the moment when I opened my email and instead of reading the dreaded opening line of “Thank you for submitting…,” I read, “Congratulations.” If this was what I was waiting for why was I disappointed? Here’s the reason; it wasn’t an acceptance from the New Yorker, any of the well-known literary journals, or even one of the magazines that paid for stories. No, those opportunities disappeared in the two rounds of rejections. I could practically hear the frosty tone Annie uses whenever I mention the names of journals I’ve been published in. “Oh I’ve never heard of that one,” she says. The pinched expression on her face always reminds me of my lowly position in the publishing world.
I spent the next two hours untangling my emotions although I didn’t understand the reasons for my angst. I felt distraught that after all that effort, only one magazine liked my story! To make matters worse, I had to withdraw my story from the other fourteen places I submitted and some of those places were well-known. But the rules are the rules. Simultaneous submissions are allowed but the writer must withdraw the piece if it is accepted elsewhere.
I called my best friend, the one who helped me come up with this fantastic little title, the one who urged me to edit and revise this story to make it work, to make my characters more likable, to change the focus of the story so it connected to the reader. As we talked about my reaction to the news I had longed to hear, she helped me see it wasn’t about being published in a magazine. It was about how most of us are never being satisfied with what we get. The universal experience we all should practice is learning how to be grateful. I’m learning.
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