Writing flash as I do, it strikes me that the number of words in a piece only slightly exceeds the number of times I have to submit before the piece is accepted.
Alle’s famed comic hyperbole strikes again; The word count for The Summers of Carefully is 286. Right Hand Pointing was its 40th submission.
Carefully was inspired by a facebook question from a fellow writer: “You guys, how do lifeguards smell?” Without hesitation, I posted that which I made up: “Lifeguards smell like the wind and dead fish.” Then I edited to add, “But not enough to matter.”
Like I said, 40th submission. There were a number of re-writes in there. One–when Cousin Traci arrived–bumped the piece from under 50 words to its current length. That revision did not *pop* the way many ideas do for me. I remember staring at the first paragraph for a long time. It was so boring. Cara on the beach with only her fantasies. She needed a foil. A square foil.
I started submitting it. I got some good feedback–including one lovely rejection from Tahoma Review, and another excellent note from The Vestal Review. But I never felt the piece was the best it could be. Twice, I stopped submitting so as to work on it.
The second time I sent it to its room, I called on the ineffable Carole L. Glickfeld, with whom I work when my fiction flummoxes me. At that point, the puppy was a one-liner. “They watched him rescue a puppy. Awwwwww.” Remi was not yet identified. The puppy-lifeguard was an amorphous “he.” (Really bad choice; really bad. Never do that again. Never, never, never.)
Carole was curious about the puppy. “Not enough coming from the puppy.” I worked on the puppy part and then put it away for awhile. Weeks later, I re-read it in preparation for sending to Right Hand Pointing. I forgot I made the change! It was as if the puppy elves did the work for me. How kind!
I began “Round Down” at least a hundred years ago – okay, probably fifteen years ago – in a Hugo House class taught by Brangien Davis on writing humor. I hoped it would be a funny little piece about cheating in eighth grade. I titled it “The Rhenquist ‘B’ Incident.”
No one wanted it. No one gave me any feed back. It was “Dear Writer: NO” the whole way. I found the first traction with it when I began to go deeper, when I found the bravery to explore the weight that a family legacy of cheating had on me.
“Round Down” as it stands now visited the submission boxes of 24 magazine since I began tracking submission and rejections, three years ago. I have no idea how many rejections it faced when the sad sucker was in the form of “The Rhenquist ‘B’ Incident.”
Below is a kind version that editors send to all the girls, a phenomenon I call “Dear Writer: NO.”
Thank you for allowing us to consider your work. Though we find we are unable to use it, we consider it a privilege that you thought of us and regret that the volume of submissions precludes a more personal reply.
Thank you for submitting “Let Me Feel For You.” We are sorry to report that we are not going to publish your work, but we wish you luck placing it elsewhere.
Here is more popular phrasing:
Thank you for giving us the chance to read your work; unfortunately, it doesn’t meet our needs at this time. As you know, we read a great number of quality submissions, and we can only accept a small fraction of them.
My favorites are the ones that, after rejecting you, ask you to subscribe to their magazine.
This week’s rejection was from Hobart: Another Literary Journal, which is on everyone’s list of Best-of-the-Best places to publish flash fiction, Top Ten Places to publish flash fiction, etc. Hobart probably publishes less than 3% of their unsolicited submissions. Maybe less than 1%.
Because I track my submissions, spending five minutes with my spreadsheet tells me that Rejection #89 for 2017:
is the flash fiction piece A Distressing State of Purity; which
is 241 words (including the title) which
has now been rejected seven times since I began sending it out, in February of 2017;
Purity is still under consideration at seven magazines.
Five additional minutes with my Submissions spreadsheet reminded me of steak-juciy stuff regarding my previous submissions to Hobart:
Since April of 2016, I submitted six different pieces to Hobart, including Purity.
I sent about every four months.
One reason I submitted so consistently is that the second time I submitted – with That Moment in Lao – the editor wrote me a personal note. “Strong piece … encourage you to submit again.”
In Hobart’s Submission Requirements, they state that it takes two weeks to four months to respond. Their average turn-around time is two months.
It took two months for Hobart to respond to That Moment in Lao – same response time as the others but with a personal note.
Each of my submissions took two months to come back “No” – except for Purity, which came back in two weeks flat with a completely standard rejection letter.
So: Purity was really the wrong choice for Hobart. Best choice so far has been That Moment in Lao. Unfortunately, I already sent them my most similar piece to Lao. What to do, what to do?
Michigan Quarterly Review posted essay by Seattle writer, Richard Hugo House teacher, and friend of the show, Wendy Call. Read, I command thee!
PS. In every single Get Published class I teach, the whole class wants to know, “How do I know which are the good places to send?” Michigan Quarterly is one of the very good places.
Wendy Call is teaching Eight Keys to Nonfiction Prose (an eight-eight-week, online class) starting Monday, February 3. She has joined the roster of instructors at Writers.com. For more details about the class, visit
First off, you get to read a great deal of high-quality writing.
Secondly, in answer to the always-asked question by students in my Get Published classes, How do I know which magazines to submit to:
If you believe the marketing, which I do, Best American publishes “The Best.” The editors search name publications and highly-regarded literary magazines. The bios of included writers usually show long lists of publications for which the odds of getting into are longer.
However, each volume in the series includes pages and pages of also-notables in the genre.
Holy gold mine, Batman. Mine those lists for anything new:
Writers new to the series (Edwidge Danticat, Adam Gopnik, et. al.; not so helpful to your purpose);
Writers new to also notables,
Publications new to the series; and
Publications new to also’s.
For Writers New To:
Look into the magazine that published the piece that got into Best American.
Read the entire issue. As you are reading, be aware of any of your pieces that come to mind. Send it.
Read the new writer’s bio, looking for the names of smaller magazines in which the new authors also published.
For Magazines New To:
Learning from Amy Bloom’s story: the smaller you go, the more likely your acceptance.
Unless your piece appears in a name magazine, where you publish is far less important than it used to be. You can promote any link to your friends, family, and readers. You can drop any link into letters to agents and editors.
As long as the writing is top-notch. If the writing is not the absolute best you can do, the rest is commentary.
Amy Bloom’s career jumpstarted with consecutive publications in The Best American Short Stories. Six years ago, at the Centrum/Port Townsend writers conference, she told a group of us how it happened:
Bloom said she so hated the idea of rejection that she sent her manuscript to the smallest literary magazine she could find: a women’s collective in Alaska. It became her first-ever fiction publication. They nominated her piece for Best American.
First publication to Best American rarely happens. So rarely does it happen that Ms. Bloom said she didn’t like to tell the story as it disheartened many not-yet-published writers – especially when followed up by the fact that her second-ever piece published also got picked for Best American.
While few of us can craft a sentence in the way of Ms. Bloom, we can all get ourselves nominated for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Best American Series. You can nominate yourself.
Perhaps more advisable, you can get readers and friends to nominate you. The most effective would be to have an editor nominate you. So … ask.
The end-matter of most volumes list the submission requirements (PLUG to buy last year’s edition). As e-mail submissions are not allowed, provide your nominators with hard copies of your publication, and pre-addressed and stamped envelopes.
Here are the editors, by book, for the 2012 Best American series:
The Best American Short Stories: Tom Perrotta (novelist)
The Best American Essays: David Brooks (New York Times op-ed columnist)
The Best American Nonrequired Reading: Dave Eggers (editor of McSweeney’s); introduction by: Ray Bradbury
The Best American Travel Writing: William T. Vollmann (author of 17 books)
The Best American Science and Nature Writing: Dan Ariely (author of The Upside of Irrationality)
The Best American Mystery Stories: Robert Crais (best-selling mystery novelist)
The Best American Sports Writing: Michael Wilbon (co-host of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption)