I really liked this idea from Brooke Fossey over at the blog for Carve Magazine (my very favorite literary magazine). It’s a blog tour where authors share their own path to getting published. It’s always interesting to see behind the scenes of other writer’s lives–their struggles and their victories. So here goes!
1. Where am I on my publishing path?
In April of 2013, I started sending out short stories for the first time in about fifteen years. That same month, I had my first short story accepted for publication, ever, in Pea River Journal. It was a two day turn-around and I was pretty excited.
Since then I’ve had 13 stories accepted for publication and 2 articles on the craft of writing. Most of those have been online, some of them have been print, and some both. I won third place in a dialogue-only contest at Bartleby Snopes, which is my only contest success so far.
In March of this year, one of my favorite short stories got accepted at CALYX Journal, which I was pretty excited about. CALYX has published authors like Barabara Kingsolver, Julia Alvarez, Paula Gunn Allen and Sharon Olds, so I’m in pretty good company there. They were also the first American publication to feature the art of Frida Kahlo in color.
So, I feel like I’ve had some nice success publishing short stories and flash fiction. Sometimes I’m not sure if I should have some kind of strategy in this part of my writing life. Do I try to get published in more prestigious magazines? Do I go back to the same ones? What’s the next step?
In 2013, I also finished my first novel and started sending it out to agents. I sent it to 31 agents, got 6 requests for a partial or full and one incredibly generous, detailed e-mail with feedback from an agent on the full manuscript. At that point, I stopped sending it out. The feedback was good stuff–the agent clearly understood what I was trying to do and had really good insight into changes I might make to get there.
2. How long has it taken me to get here?
A long time and really not long at all. I wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I started sending stories out in high school. I got pretty serious about it in college. There’s a big stack of rejection letters in a box in my basement. Then there’s fifteen years in which I didn’t really write at all, so that’s a long time.
But once I started writing again, things moved pretty quickly. I took my first sabbatical from my job teaching college students in the winter of 2011 and that summer, wrote the draft of my first novel. I kind of just let it sit for a while, and then picked it back up in the summer of 2012. Then I was sending it out in the summer of 2013, which was probably a bit too quick.
Sometimes, I think it has to have been years and years I’ve been writing again and sending things out and then I remember, it hasn’t been that long at all.
3. What’s my journey looked like thus far?
I really liked Brooke’s pie charts in this section, but I’m going to have to do without. Of course, like her, there’s been a lot of rejection. Sometimes I ask myself what the hell am I doing? Why did I choose to engage in an activity that is really all about rejection? An activity where you ask to be rejected repeatedly. “Yes, may I have another rejection, please?” It’s deeply insane.
Duotrope tells me that my overall acceptance rate is 11.3% overall, 10% for fiction and 50% for non-fiction. The high rate for non-fiction is because I’ve only sent 5 things out, 2 of those were accepted, the other is still pending.
I’ve also been rejected on queries for freelance articles, residencies, fellowships, and blogging gigs, so I’m racking up an ever growing list of things I’ve been rejected for. That feels like something of an accomplishment in and of itself.
There have also been some really great moments. The short story that got accepted at CALYX Journal was rejected 19 times, all but one of them form rejections. This in spite of the fact that I thought it was the best story I’ve ever written. So when it got accepted at CALYX, a journal I really respect, I was pretty stoked. Happy about the acceptance and happy to know a story I love would be out in the world.
But the best thing about this journey thus far for me is the people. My life is better because of the people I’ve met through writing and some of them have become among my closest friends. I don’t have an MFA or even a workshop here in the place where I live. But I feel like I have a small and growing community of writers. I wouldn’t trade that for all the acceptances in the world.
4. What’s your future look like?
Ah, this is the hard one. Who knows? I just finished Haruki Murakami’s writing/running memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. His first novel–his very first attempt at a novel–won a contest and got published. At least according to his memoir, it was all downhill after that. It’s frustrating to read those kinds of stories–people who seem to achieve success so easily.
During National Novel Writing Month last year, I wrote the draft of yet another novel. Something very different, this time. Something that was completely fun for me. Since then, I’ve been editing and revising and I think it’s about ready to go out to agents. So I’ll begin that whole process again.
Thinking of this new round of rejection looming in my future, I turned to my husband one night and said, “If this one doesn’t get published, I don’t think I can keep doing this.” He gave me this knowing smile and nodded. “What? You don’t believe me?” I asked.
“I believe you’ll do what you want to do,” he said.
It’s hard having a spouse who knows you so well.
The truth is that apparently what I want to do is write, which is, in many ways, a whole other thing from getting published. So I’ll keep at it. I’ll keep getting rejected, because I know that never stops, no matter how successful you become. Hopefully, I’ll keep getting better as a writer. Keep growing and stretching. Keep trying new things. Keep meeting wonderful people. In the end, I’ll just keep writing.