The life cycle of a submission

At the beginning of this year I mentioned in a post that I had recently submitted something to a literary journal after an unplanned break in writing:

Brevity, a journal and website I thoroughly enjoy, was seeking submissions for an upcoming episode of their podcast. They were looking for ‘One-Minute Memoir episodes,’ pieces up to 150 words (on paper) and up to one minute (recording time). On the day submissions closed, I pulled something together and sent it off with an hour to spare.

As someone very new to submitting my work, it was an amusing ride on an unfamiliar roller-coaster and an embarrassing peek into the ego of a writer. What follows is a play by play of my experience with two recent submission from beginning to end.

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January 3, 2018: I noticed the One-Minute Memoir call for submissions on Facebook.

First, I shared it with my online writing group: Anyone want to do this with me? Deadline is Jan 6th, which is very soon, but it’s only 100-150 words/60 seconds.

Next, I shared it with my husband and encouraged him to submit  a piece, too. “Maybe something about your brain tumor and the surgical screw that popped out of your head?” He seemed interested.

The next couple days passed quickly as our teenager returned to school after winter break, and we resumed non-holiday life. I thought about the call for submissions in passing, but hadn’t done anything about it. Maybe I’d enter, maybe I wouldn’t.

After dinner on the 6th, I asked, “Hey, did you think about that short memoir thing I told you about?” Stu looked up from his book, “Yeah, I already submitted something.” I was surprised because he hadn’t said a thing to me since I’d sent him the link.

“That’s great, hon! About the brain tumor and the screw?” He nodded. “Can I read it?” I asked. He paused, shook his head. “No.” “Are you serious? I always let you read my stuff,” I whined. He met my eyes and shook his head again. Nope.

I stood there incredulous. I’m the one who told him about this. What if his piece gets published and mine doesn’t? Then I looked at his kind, handsome face and the small dent in his skull and remembered how he’d earned that.

Suddenly motivated, I grabbed my laptop and searched for something to work with. I landed on a 337 word piece I’d written contrasting the experience of being with my mom when she was hospitalized during treatment for cancer, and being with my kid when they were in the inpatient adolescent psych hospital three times. I trimmed the piece down to the word limit and sent it off.

January 6, 2018 (to writing group): You guys, I just submitted a 150-word/one minute memoir to Brevity for an upcoming episode of their podcast! Wahoo! This is a big step for me, even though it’s a short piece and a low-stakes setting. It feels like I’m getting back in the swing of things, and that feels great.

My husband received his rejection in a few days, so I expected mine to follow quickly. When it didn’t, I began to wonder: Are they actually considering my piece? A couple more days passed and I began to dream. Maybe this could lead to something else, like getting an essay published? Oh, or maybe a book deal? Okay, dial it back, hon, I said to myself with a laugh.

Still, I went from checking the Submittable site every couple days to checking daily, and then from checking daily to checking multiple times a day. Part of me thought I was being ridiculous. But part of me felt it in my bones. This was *probably* going to happen.

The call for submissions stated that accepted pieces would be broadcast on their February episode, so when February 1st came I just knew. I decided I would be comfortable with my literary fame, and I would definitely not let it go to my head. I’d still be a new writer, just one who finally had a publication to list on my bio, and a big deal publication if we’re being honest.

The 2nd and 3rd passed and my certainty grew.

On the morning of February 4th, I received an email.

Dear Jessica,
We want to thank you for sharing your one-minute memoir, Abiding, with us.
While we didn’t feel that it was right for this episode of the Brevity Podcast…

The rest was a blur. I even teared up a bit. I haven’t felt so unwanted since my college days when they guy I’d been crushing on said, “Dude, I guess just think of you as one of my best friends.” I didn’t bother to remind him that a few months earlier he’d told me he sometimes thought about marrying me. Brevity had not led me on like that, but I was caught off guard by how hard the rejection stung.

February 4th: Okay, friends, I need to start submitting my stuff a lot more because I just got a rejection from the first thing I had submitted in nearly two years and it stings. Hard.

So, I really need to do this more often so it hopefully stings less with each rejection. That’s how it works, right?

These women, many of whom have been published, assured me that yes, this is how it works and to keep writing and keep submitting. One even reminded me of this essay on how one writer decided to aim for 100 rejections a year. 100 seemed awfully high to me, but 12 seemed realistic. One rejection per month. I could do that, and I had already taken care of January’s.

Meanwhile, on February 1st someone in our group had shared a call for submissions from The Rumpus, which was seeking essays on “Mothering Outside The Margins.” This sounded right up my alley because nothing about my mothering feels within the margins, but The Rumpus is an absolute dream publication. Way out of my league. Still, I brought the idea with me to Chicago where I was spending a few nights to read, rest, and write on a much needed solo get-away.

I thought of an essay I’d been working on for a long time. It started as a couple unrelated snippets about our first pregnancy, the miscarriage that followed, our subsequent pregnancy with Benson, and JFK, Jr.’s plane crash. Trust me, there is a connection in all that. I began working on it in earnest in a class about 18 months earlier. I got feedback from our group, feedback during a writing workshop, and feedback from a writing instructor whose class I took last fall. I polished it up to the best of my ability and got one more round of eyes on it before submitting it on March 1st, along with a short, clever cover letter.

newspaper clipping of Laura Ingalls Wilder's first published piece of writing
A newspaper clipping of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s first published piece of writing on display at the American Writers Museum.

On my way to the Art Institute of Chicago the next morning I stumbled on a place I’d never heard of, the American Writers Museum. Finding this new museum felt like validation that I was on the right path, as circuitous and uncertain as it may feel. I worked my way through colorful, informative exhibits about American writers, pleased with the breadth of representation. I took pictures of displays to share with writer friends and soaked up the feeling of being somewhere dedicated to writers and their craft.

Then, as I stood in the Laura Ingalls Wilder exhibit I got an email notification.

Thank you so much for submitting your work to The Rumpus.

I am sorry that we won’t be publishing your piece.

I glanced up from my phone and breathed out a heavy sigh. Another rejection. Crap.

I realized I was facing a display with a small photo of a letter from Laura Ingalls Wilder printed by the local newspaper in DeSmet, South Dakota. On the side in cursive she wrote, “First I ever had published.”

I looked back at the email.

…That said—please do keep reading, and keep submitting work to us! Do not be discouraged; please keep writing and persist!

Huh. I sat with it for a moment and noticed it didn’t sting as much this time. I was disappointed, yes, but somehow I also felt encouraged. I remembered my new goal of 12 rejections this year and started thinking of other places where I could submit this essay. I had Laura Ingalls Wilder next to me, Octavia E. Butler around the corner, and scores of other writers for inspiration.

I finished up and headed to a coffee shop instead of the art museum. I had work to do, and I couldn’t wait to tell my writing group: two down, ten to go.

4 thoughts on “The life cycle of a submission”

  1. Every writer/creator I know would relate to this essay. I laughed at the certainty , because I have deluded myself similarly on too many occasions. The truth is, submitting really is an endurance game. Keep at it until you get an acceptance, and keep recognizing your bravery and work along the way.

    1. Ahh, thank you, Ann, this is so reassuring! I really appreciate you reading and sharing this encouragement.

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