I used to keep a Word document detailing where I'd sent what. Now it's a Google spreadsheet, colour coded, sortable. It lists the titles of completed stories and their word counts, tells me where I sent a certain piece, on what date and, eventually, the decision rendered by the outlet. A white row means that, for whatever reason, I have not yet released that piece out into the world to be judged. A row bathed in yellow means I am in the midst of the frequently months-long wait to learn of the editors' decision. Green means a piece has been accepted, and thus retired from the submission circuit. Red means rejection.
There is a lot of red.
The spreadsheet is, in fact, overwhelmingly red, a sea of crimson broken by little daubs of yellow, ribbons of hope, and few strips of green, buoys to which I might cling while being tossed by wave after wave of rejection.
There are days when I wonder why I submit to this interminable parade of rejection. It can't be good for the psyche, to be told no – or, to be fair, usually No, thanks, it's not quite right for us at this time – over and over again.
But it's the currency, it's what we traffic in, innumerable rides on the carousel of submission and declination, with work only occasionally dismounting and scurrying to safety. Rejection is the air we breathe.
Because it's how my brain tends to run, I compare the whole exercise to baseball where, as the oft-trotted cliché holds, even the best hitters fail seven times out of ten. Here are some of my numbers: a story set for publication any day now was first rejected six times; the title story of my collection was turned down five times before being accepted. And so on. My current average is pretty low. On my Submittable page the word “Declined” appears a dozen times right now. Maybe I'm in a bit of a slump. But as in baseball, the only way out of a slump is swinging. Trust the process, and the process involves working a story until it feels done, giving a trusted reader a chance to look it over and tell you whether you're wrong, then letting the thing age a while before looking at it again. If it still feels done, or done-ish, it enters the lineup.
The odds are always long. At least they are for me, and always have been. You often hear that rejection should be seen not as a fatal judgment on your work's merit, but simply that it wasn't right for that reader, at that outlet, on that particular day. This is an easy enough thing to disbelieve, but having been on both ends of it, as writer and as editor, I think it's true more often than not. There are, it helps to remind myself, far more writers than there are literary magazines. I have to believe these things, really, or I'd find myself unwilling to ever try again. The stories would dry up, and eventually so would my desire to write them. Instead, I keep going back for more punishment. I take my hacks, over and over again, and eventually, maybe, I make contact, and one falls in. A bit of green appears on the spreadsheet, a verdant island, reason to believe I might actually be able to do it again, if only I could remember how I did it.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Andrew Forbes’s work has been nominated for the Journey Prize, and has appeared in The Feathertale Review, Found Press, PRISM International, The New Quarterly, Scrivener Creative Review, This Magazine, Hobart, The Puritan, All Lit Up, The Classical, and Vice Sports. He is the author of What You Need, a collection of fiction, and The Utility of Boredom: Baseball Essays. He lives in Peterborough, Ontario.