Monday, March 3, 2014

Rejection, Submission, and Tips for Good Writing

Dear Alexandra: Thank you for your submission. We find that your piece "Better Than Your Easter," does not fit our content guidelines at this time..."

It's Monday morning, the day I take all the submissions I have in drafts and prepare them for launch. I sit with my cup of coffee and a few lemon oreos at my side, and I begin sending out my work. Each one hopeful, but I'm also realistic. Rejections have made me that way, and are something I've gotten used to.

The list of the places where I submit my writing grows every month. It's a complicated process, I study the site to see the type of work they like, I prepare a first draft, second draft... I work on pieces that I feel are eternally relevant and I also stay up until 3:00 in the morning when I feel a topic is going to be hot the next day.

People have told me that they couldn't take the number of "Nos" that I get back. I see it this way, if you don't submit, no one sees your work. And so I send in my words. I note word count requested, my cover letter is double checked to make sure the editor's name is spelled correctly, I introduce myself so a hint of my personality comes through. Any honors or accolades I've picked up along the way, I mention briefly, as proof that I've done this before.

Rejection is part of submission. I've learned things from watching the work that is published on the sites I shoot for. And I have a checklist on the front page of a notebook I keep solely for writing tips. It's filled with bullet point items that I go through, line by line, making sure I've got them covered before I cross my fingers and then hit send.

I'm sharing my checklist here, hoping you find a place for your words so you can, with luck and dedication, feel the joy that comes with an email that begins, "Thank you for your submission! We're interested in your piece..."

Those words are worth the price of rejection.

1.) Study the site you want to write for. Learn the style they like and the topics that are most popular there. Go to their SUBMISSIONS PAGE and stick to the guidelines like your life depends on it. Word count is word count and double space is double space. You're no exception.

2.) See if you can get a direct contact or specific name of an editor of who would be in charge of your area of interest, and your genre of submission. BE SURE TO SPELL THEIR NAME CORRECTLY. Every last letter.

3.) Always include your name, address, email, blog link, twitter handle, word count, and title. Sounds obvious, but it's easy to focus on your piece and just send that in... with no information on who you are.

After you've done the above, which is the expected, that's when you're ready for:


--Your voice must be present. You have to listen to your work and hear yourself in it. Otherwise, it won't hold any editor's interest. If there's humor, it has to make you laugh. If it's heartbreak, that pain in your chest must be translated. Make your words as clear as a knife ringing against the rim of a glass. Be strong in your style. Now is not a time for what I call "safe writing."

--Details must be alive. Work them in richly, along with your senses. Keep a note close by to remind yourself, can I see it? smell it? taste it? hear it? touch it? Bring things to life in the reader's mind so they smell the fish burning in the frying pan as you rush to your child that fell from his high chair. 

--Fling your words like it's your last shot to snag that branch and pull yourself out of the icy creek you just fell through.

After you've written like a wild woman who finally gets to talk to someone after being alone for a year, stop - breathe -- and check for:

 A.) Accuracy in punctuation and spelling . (Typos, misspellings, grammar errors -- are never acceptable.) 

B.) Organization and logical flow. (Does the order make sense? Can you see how one thought leads to another?)

Lastly, always always and always read once, twice, three times. Then read it aloud one more time before you hit send. Because we all know the magic of hitting send: it's when your typos appear.

Good luck, and I wish you all happy emails.

P.S. Rejection just means polish it up a little. And no, for now. But I'll be back...
* * * 


  1. Great advice! I also submit faithfully, and have fund there is also the perfectly happy middle ground of "this piece isn't right for us, but I went to your blog and think 'Summer with my Cats' would be great if you could get the word count to 500."

  2. Fantastic. You're so generous with your time and your advice. Especially with the notion that you NEED to put yourself out there and you NEED to accept rejection, because that is going to be most of what you get back.

    HOWEVER, lemon Oreos? We may be fighting.


  3. these are solid ideas...i would just add that rejection is part of the process and it happens to everyone so dont let it stall you out...dont take it rejection is that much closer to an acceptance....

  4. Great advice as always Alexandra!

  5. Thank you for this excellent advice Alexandra! I needed this today and I so appreciate that you care enough to share your experience and knowledge with everyone.

  6. Lemon oreos? I had no idea. Things I learn from blogs.
    They could have also just accepted something with the same theme, voice--anything. Or the submissions editor is having a bad day or....
    I used to read my really great rejections when I was having a bad day.
    Great piece and comments!

  7. That was Pia--courting destiny. Google keeps signing me into a defunct blog!

  8. Wait? Lemon Oreos? And you have not shared this discovery with me? I love this so much. You are so kind, brave and sharing. LOVE! xo

  9. Before I tried my hand at writing (the kind where you get published, I mean) I was obsessed with being liked, accepted, wanted. (Perhaps pathologically.)

    I still want to be liked, accepted, wanted by people. All people. And I think I deserve to be liked - since I make every opportunity to be kind, be mindful of the golden rule. All that jazz.

    But that's about me as a person. Which is different from me as a writer.

    The rejection I've received since putting my words out there has made me so much stronger. More balanced. Realistic.

    I can now separate my WORTH from my WORK.

    It's not personal. I am (mostly) no longer offended and certainly no longer prone to fetal positions when someone tells me "this isn't for me."

    It will be for someone else. That's what I tell myself.
    And I move on, believing it.


  10. You're all so kind. Thank you. We just need to hold each other up. I just finished judging a competition, and I learned a lot. I may write a post about that... when it's a no, it's because it's not a fit. Plain as that.

  11. Alexandra, what great advice - and I loved hearing that typos appear when you hit send too!!!

  12. I just heard an editor at Harper's magazine (on NPR) say, "Speaking broadly, of course, a male writer comes to you with an idea and you say 'This isn't quite right for us, try us again.' If I say that 'try us again' in the email, I may get a response the next day with three new ideas. And there is a tendency, I think, among female writers to emphasize the 'this isn't right for us' part, rather than the 'try us again' part."

    You're right. We need to try, try again.

    1. Tammy: HOW Interesting. I want to put this up on FB. How interesting.

  13. Last night, I re-read the first five thousand words of a novel I submitted to a contest and found three typos. Still recovering from the horror. Later, I suppose I'll be reeling from the rejection.

    Loved these tips and I'm so impressed by your persistence and motivation. I hope it rubs off on me!

  14. So much of this translates to what I'm trying to do with my photography. I'm whittling down my choices for a gallery's annual 'newcomer' competition. The one thing I have to keep in mind that you writerly types don't is a weird but important question: "Would a normal person hang this on his/her wall?"

  15. That is definitely great advice. The number one thing I got out of it is that I just don't have the time for that. I couldn't possibly spend the time that it would take to research and write and edit. One day I hope to be able to dedicate time to it again, but now I'm just happy I have the time to read and comment on your blog!

  16. Got my first rejection two days ago. My brother said to frame it. But it came as an email so the impact won't be as great. No letterhead!
    Thanks for the tips! I will forge on with them in mind.

  17. Thank you for your generosity, your confidence, and your experience. xo

  18. My pleasure. Rejection means you're working it. xo GO FIGHT WIN.



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