I often run across commentary related to writers’ frustrations with submitting to literary magazines, running into the Wall of Rejection, and rants against The Establishment perceived in many long-standing publications/academically-connected journals. Often, new publications are started by writers attempting to break down the barriers for other writers, promising to give consideration to those totally-unknown authors as well as those who do not come with a highly-acclaimed workshop/colony/MFA pedigree. Stick around literary publishing long enough, and the repetitions become easy to sort, but nonetheless, heartfelt and real for those going through them for the first time.
Anette Gendler, in her post “The Year I Gave Up Submitting to Literary Magazines” in Women Writers, Women[‘s] Books, took a look at her publishing record a few years back, “As 2015 drew to a close, I reviewed my submissions log and noted that 25 submissions to literary magazines had yielded zero acceptances.” After considering the usual self-blame (“not enough effort, I should have submitted more”), Gendler considered her record for the years prior: 32 submissions/0 acceptances; 68 submissions/0 acceptances.
For many reading this, I know the first thought: Maybe she’s just not that good.
Consider her previous publication credits: Bella Grace, Washington Independent Review of Books, Tablet Magazine, Thread, Wall Street Journal, and, for a period of time before this ‘dry spell’: Flashquake, South Loop Review, Under the Sun, Bellevue Literary Review, Kaleidoscope, Natural Bridge, and Prime Number Magazine.
She’s been published. She just wasn’t seeing the results that would encourage her to continue banging her head against that Wall. Yet, she asked herself, “Could I abandon the mothership?” She did, and instead, “I focused on the publications whose work I truly admired and loved to read, and that’s where I kept submitting.”
The result? “It’s not that suddenly all my work gets accepted, but the rate is much higher,” Gendler writes. “I now look at my submissions in terms of publications I want to get into. I think about what I could write for them.”
After reading Gendler’s commentary and seeing it had been a few years, I wondered, “Where is she now?” with her stance on lit mags, so I reached out to her to ask.
“My approach has pretty much stayed the same since then,” she wrote, “I don’t submit to literary magazines anymore. Not doing so was essentially a course correction for me. Literary magazines are just not the right market for my work, even though I write literary nonfiction and memoir.”
As well, since that time, she has published her first book, Jumping Over Shadows: A Memoir. Ironically, a lit mag editor, having read her post, asked her to submit something for their journal. She did, and they published The Flying Dutchman, an excerpt from her book.