What I Learned From Submitting My Writing (And Being Rejected)
I’ve always had a passion for combining words and phrases and, ever since kindergarten when I showed my mother my first piece, a controversial illustrated story called “The Dog Who Poisoned People”, I’ve considered that sharing your work is an essential part of the creative process. The thing with writing, and almost every art form, is, even though expressing yourself is usually the main reason why you choose to make something from scratch, if you don’t have an audience, artistic evolution will eventually stop. In 2008 I published my work online for the first time by posting a six-hundred-word-long Facebook status. It was a pretentious article called “Men, Disappointment and Ham” that showed a not-so-clear parallelism between this type of meat, which never tasted as good as it smelled, and the always frustrating male community. I was sixteen years old so it’s fair to say that it wasn’t a clear case of glorious journalism, but my close friends loved it and for me that was enough to keep on creating.
In 2014, I started building a fictional story as a means of healing my heart and giving myself answers that life wasn’t providing. It was personal and clearly autobiographical, so the idea of letting others read it was as dreadful as going to school in your underwear, but I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and decided to take a leap of faith by sending it to one of my best friends. And then I sent it to my mother, and then my grandmother wanted to read it so I printed a copy for her, and before I realised, I had a small army of ten loving supporters eager to find out what would happen to my characters. And with their excitement, came the questions. Would I finish it one day? Would I publish it once it was done? I wanted to say yes, but how would I know? To get published you have to get picked, so having your book showcased in libraries’ shelves isn’t a matter of self-determination. Or is it?
In the few minutes that I had between work, getting my degree and gestating my wordy baby, I started doing my research. I learnt about literary agents, publishing houses, manuscripts and self-publishing. I devoted time to read what struggling authors who had walked my path had to say. I also decided to test the waters and submit poems, quotes, short stories and essays to whichever platform I could find. They never got picked but, contrary what one might expect, my investigation proved to be all but disheartening.
I decided to compile what I learned from reading peers and creating unwanted paragraphs. For those who might be feeling a little queasy about sharing their work, I hope these humble and amateurish pieces of advice can be helpful.
1) DO YOUR RESEARCH: Are you writing romantic short stories? Essays on economic crises? Vampire fan fiction? What you write will narrow down your choices when looking for a literary agent or a publishing house. Your erotic poems might be amazing but I doubt people from Scholastic will be interested in making a book with them. Submitting your work to those who are not interested in your style is like trying to train your cat to open the door. It may sound like a good idea, but in reality it’s just a waste of time.
2) EVERY PUSH IS INVALUABLE: Don’t hate on literary contests just because your stories never get picked. Writing is not about winning or losing, but about improving. When you know someone will read your work, you tend to check those connectors twice, you google which prepositions collocate with which verbs, you wreck your brains out until you are pleased with the way your paragraph is structured. The only way of evolving artistically is subjecting your work to criticism. You may end up with a stack of rejected pieces, but you can be sure each of them is better than the last.
3) IT’S NEVER PERSONAL: That editor in chief doesn’t hate you, they just don’t like something you wrote and that’s okay. I didn’t like my mother’s roasted chicken yesterday, but that doesn’t mean she’s a terrible or cook or that I won’t enjoy whatever she makes for lunch today. I know rejection is hard. I know you feel embarrassed when you picture some fancy knowable man reading your rookie article, before throwing it in the bin and bursting into evil laughter. I felt that way until I realised I could submit again and they wouldn’t think “Oh, let’s read what this untalented failure wrote this time”, basically because they don’t know who I am. So remember that even though your art is usually a reflection of your person, one particular piece doesn’t necessarily define you or your true potential. To put it simply: submit, accept rejection, detach your character from your work, submit again.
4) EVEN J.K. ROWLING GOT REJECTED: There, I said it, and those words should be enough to convince you that even renowned agents and editors can mess up big time when judging a hidden gem.
5) JUST BECAUSE PEOPLE DON’T WANT TO PUBLISH YOUR STUFF DOESN’T MEAN PEOPLE DON’T WANT TO READ IT: It’s terribly important that you understand that for every sensible editor who considers your articles to be unworthy of their publication, there are at least ten people who are dying to read them. If you are struggling with getting your work out there, jump the fence of formal recognition and upload content on other platforms. Create your own website, post long texts on Tumblr and tag them accordingly so supportive anonymous users can read them, self-publish your own book and sell copies for pennies at local coffee shops. If you truly think your words can make a difference in people’s lives, you shouldn’t let anything stop you from showing them to those who would appreciate them. And this brings me to…
6) BELIEVE IN YOUR WORK: You’re a writer, which means you pour your soul out every time you have a pen or a keyboard at hand not because you want to make money but rather because you think you have something to say. Improve your use of structures, study hard so you can learn about character development and subplots, accept feedback and edit whatever looks weird but never doubt yourself for a second. No one thinks like you, no one has your essence, no one will be able to write what you wrote. Believe in yourself and in the power of your words and, once you’re proud of your creation, share it with those who are willing to receive it. Someone will think it makes sense, someone will write your quote in their journals. Someone will love your narrative and you will feel amazing, even if that someone is your mother.