Ten Things I’ve Learned over 12 Years of Sending Out Stories By Josh Rolnick

 

1. Mark Farrington, my first writing teacher at the Johns Hopkins MA Program in Writing in the fall of 1998, suggested we should start sending our stories out “when they are as good as we can make them.” That may seem obvious, but I’ve found it to be a great rule of thumb. Perhaps you’ve had several rounds of feedback, you’ve revised, and while you still see problems, you don’t know how to fix them. When you’ve taken a story as far as you can on your own, send it out.

2. Send stories out broadly – ten to twenty journals at a time. This is particularly important if, over time, you hope to receive useful feedback. Since sending my first story out in January, 1999, I’ve sent to 225 journals, contests, or competitive retreats; I’ve received 219 rejections and had six stories published. But I’ve received some kind of encouragement – from formal letters to “send more” checked on a postcard – from 71 publications, about one-third of all my submissions.

3. Aim high. Make a list of the top tier journals you’d love to have your story published in, then start at the top and move down. I submitted my very first story in 1999 to 12 places, including the Atlantic Monthly, the New Yorker, Zoetrope, and Virginia Quarterly Review. While the odds are very low, any feedback you receive can keep you going.

4. Another of Farrington’s suggestions I’ve tried to follow religiously over the years: Send only to journals that pay – however little. Sure, writers should be paid for their work, but this is not just a question of principle. Payment (cash – not contributor’s copies) signifies an added seriousness, a heightened commitment to the piece being published. Using pay as a guide crisply sorts journals into two categories: those that do; those that don’t. While there are certainly serious, respectable journals that don’t or can’t pay, by and large payment is an efficient surrogate for quality.*

5. Send smartly. Read a journal’s submissions guidelines. Pay attention to page limits and manuscript needs. Don’t send to AGNI in July. Don’t send Fence a hard copy manuscript (they only take electronic). Most writers I know don’t read all the journals they send to in advance. But at the very least familiarize yourself with a journal’s unique pulse before sending, or take your lumps. Perhaps the most embarrassing (and humbling) rejection I received came from the Chariton Review, then published through the English Department at Brigham Young University: “Sorry – but we can’t consider anything with an f word in it. You surely must know that BYU is church-sponsored.”

6. Find out which journals respond personally to your work, and keep sending them stories. Even if they never take one, you’re likely to get a steady stream of feedback. Keep a file, tabbed by journal, of all the responses you receive – whether a letter from an editor or a form “send again” card; good, bad, or otherwise – so you can track them over time.

7. When you get a positive response, always reference it when sending your next story. Do this even if all you’ve received is a scribbled, unsigned “nice work” or an auspicious check mark. Sometimes, someone will initial their comments. Take the time to look them up online, and address your next story to them. I’ve started many letters: “Thank you for your encouraging note about my last story…” This immediately establishes your relationship with the journal, and can help lift your story off the slush pile.

8. Don’t take rejection personally. Every writer knows this, and yet it’s one of the toughest things to truly internalize. I once received an email from the Paris Review that felt, well, pretty personal: “I just finished ‘Innkeeping’ … I found it able but not, to be honest, terribly distinctive, and the tone sort of YA – not for us, I’m afraid.” I consider myself fairly well steeled, and, still, the email stung. Less than two months later, though, I received another email, from Field Maloney at the New Yorker: “I want to apologize for our taking so long to get back to you on ‘Innkeeping.’…I enjoyed reading this one – the voice is natural and distinctive – and I’d be glad to read more of your fiction in the future.” I keep both notes in their separate files, with a Post-It note on the Paris Review comments, reminding me of the New Yorker’s.

9. If you are fortunate enough to get a story accepted, immediately write or email the other journals where the story is still under consideration, letting them know your story has been placed.

10. Celebrate rejection. I’m not kidding. Each rejection is a chance you gave your story to live in the minds of readers; each, an opportunity to toughen your writerly skin. Mark milestone rejections by subscribing to the journal that didn’t take you. I did this when I received my 200th rejection – and in so doing, I owned the rejection, instead of letting it own me. Now, each month when One Story arrives, I’m reminded of my triumph.

*I recently contacted Farrington, still an instructor and faculty adviser at Hopkins, to run this piece by him. He said while he still recommends writers submit to journals that pay, he offered this addendum: “Sometimes there will be a story that you sincerely believe is finished – it doesn’t need to be revised, or put on a shelf for awhile, it is what it is – but it’s not a story that’s had success with the top tier journals. That’s a story I would feel absolutely fine about sending to a journal that doesn’t pay.”

MOSURO THE BOOKSELLERS presents LAIPO READS

Be there!

 

Time:    03 September · 15:30 – 17:30

Location: NSIAC (Nigerian Society for Information on Arts and Culture), 54, Magazine Road, Jericho, Ibadan.

 

Featuring Jude Dibia (Blackbird), Ayodele Arigbabu ( A Fistful of Tales), Sylva Nze Ifedigbo (The funeral Did Not End), Odili Ujubuonu ( Pride of the Spider Clan). There shall be special appearance by Femi Osofisan. Come and mingle with great minds like yours.

Ibadan l’o mo, oo mo L’AIPO!

Recommended Reading From Online Magazines By Robert Moreira

Sock ‘em. Fry ‘em. Slap ‘em. Tap ‘em. Nick ‘em. Taste ‘em. Taunt ‘em. Share ‘em. Lick ‘em. Bake ‘em. Serve ‘em. Stain ‘em. Do-whatever-you-want-with ‘em. But not before reading ‘em. After that, after they’ve claimed your soul, do as you wish. Go ahead and try. The stories will never let you go. Hasta pronto, amigos.

 

– Also, I had always thought Germans didn’t know God. I grew up hating them because of the stories mother told me about Hitler and how he slaughtered six million Jews, God’s own people. They have churches here though but they are mostly orthodox. You know they say we Igbos are descendants of Abraham. That’s why we are so wise and prosperous. – Samuel Oluwatosin Kolawole in Sentinel Literary Quarterly

– “So you don’t know what you’re talking about?” At some point she realized that Test Guy was delivering his barbs staring directly into her nipples. It was as if he had come from a planet where eye-to-nipple contact was the established norm. The unbridled rudeness of it so shocked her that she initially questioned what she was seeing. Or maybe it was something about her: were her nipples blinking, had they sprouted thorns? And then she realized: oh, this was the experiment. From that point forward, it seemed no big deal. But now, at three in the morning, still trying to process her surfing, with the cool office air grazing her skin, and her thin nightgown offering scant protection, it was palpably giving her the creeps. – Dennis Kaplan in Eclectica

– Enter the mystery character: a retired cop with the hard-to-die habit of cruising town with an old patrol scanner. That is how one afternoon he left his living room and flew, fought for our futures with a steady one and two and three and rhythm. He bolted that premature tunnel shut. – Deanna Larsen in kill author

– The other night during sex Dylan said, “Oh my God,” in a way that was not necessarily good, and I just kept thinking oh no oh no until he said finally, “The cat is watching us.” I looked up and saw her in the corner, waving her forelegs around in the air. I told him that we should just ignore her, maybe let her figure things out on her own. But he freaked out and went home, and the next day my cell phone rang while I was writing at a coffee shop and I felt like I should apologize for my cat. “She does that sometimes,” I said to Dylan. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” – Richard Larson in pax americana

– Sure, I’m into Carverquest. I admit that. I mean I keep out of the wank circles and I don’t really post on comms much. I’ve just been in fandom for fucking ever, so everyone knows me and knows my Journal. Nick’s Diner, they call it. All the greasy, bad-for-you Carverquest content you never knew you wanted until it’s served with a steaming hot cup of sarcasm. People tell me stuff. It’s awesome. – Sam Starbuck in Fiction Circus

 

Jungle Jim

Jungle Jim is a ground breaking  African pulp fiction magazine based in South Africa. I write for them. Here’s what they wrote about my story collection “The book of M”

link

SAMUEL KOLAWOLE

Exciting news from Jungle Jim contributor Samuel Kolawole: His new collection of short stories, THE BOOK OF M is set for imminent release. As great admirers of Samuel’s dark, imaginative and incredibly detailed writing, we can’t wait to get our hands on more, especially if this is anything to go by:

Sharp, bold and highly disturbing, Samuel’s stories tread forbidden paths. The protagonists in this stunning début collection are ordinary people turned victims or willful captives of a world torn apart by greed, lust, superstition, rebellion, witchcraft and military tyranny.

For the two school teachers in “My meat was tough, My blood was bitter.” What is meant to be a midnight excursion begins a journey of no return. “Mules of Fortune” concerns a mother, her baby and two children forced to join a group smuggling food to the border in exchange for ammunition for rebels. Surviving a terrible accident they forge an unexpected bond. In another story “Meme” a condemned female convict tries in vain to pay the ultimate price for her crime.

Told with striking confidence, these stories announce the arrival of a uniquely gifted voice in fiction.

Watch out for MEME in Jungle Jim No 2, and MULES OF FORTUNE, which will be serialized in upcoming issues!