Definition of a Successful Week

I’ve been seriously submitting manuscripts to magazine and book publishers for close to twenty years. I think I’ve hit upon what I should count as a successful week as a writer, and it’s not the number of acceptance letters. Many reasons pop up to explain why these haven’t been in the mailbox so that’s a poor criteria.

Rejection often falls into routine editorial reasons:

  • We received almost 500 submissions.
  • The issue is full.
  • One editor receives 3000 stories per year, accepting 12 which means 1 in 250 odds even with a good piece of writing. (So do I really think I can win this lottery?)

Other things are beyond the writer’s control:

  • Timing – The editor of Family Circle wrote an encouraging rejection letter saying how much she enjoyed my submission about my mother’s Alzheimer’s Disease, but she had just bought a similar one. (The encouragement led me to send it out again, and it was published later in Cup of Comfort for Families Touched by Alzheimer’s.)
  • Tastes of editors – not that different from food. Think of all the fruitcake jokes. One rejection said, “We just didn’t love it enough.” Finding the right editor is a little like finding that person (like me) who can’t wait for fruitcake.
  • Trends – They come. They go. Think of the norm of taking two years from the time a book is bought until it hits the shelves. By the time you spot a fad and write to it, the fad fades before your book can get to market.

One rejection that I got before I began to be really earnest about sending out my work, added a note that they would be glad to see something else I wrote. All I saw was the rejection. With a little more experience behind me, I’m kicking myself for not heeding that invitation. Invitations like that aren’t given out lightly. 

I’m encouraged not to feel like a failure by hearing stories of multiple rejections before acceptance and the ones they continue to receive for so many authors who are now well-known! My current model is Kate DiCamillo, who has multiple award-winning books and will be the recipient of USM’s medallion for her body of work at next year’s book festival. She claims more than four hundred!

So, what do I use to measure a successful week? I do like those acceptances, but I have limited control over them. Instead, I look at my wastebasket. I can control how hard I work. A successful week is one that ends with a wastebasket filled with rewrites and do-overs.