GUEST POST by Amy Sundberg: The Five Stages of Submission

Stress abounds in the game of roulette that is the fiction submissions process. Whether you are submitting to magazines, anthologies, agents, or publishing houses, it’s a hard slog through the trenches of disappointment, frustration, and sometimes even despair. In fact, sometimes the journey bears an uncanny resemblance to the five steps of grieving:

1. Denial:

  • I’m just never going to submit anything.
  • I’m the best writer in the world, and every editor/agent will be lining up at my door because of this story.
  • There is no room for improvement in any of my work ever.
  • All the markets are publishing stupid stuff anyway, so it doesn’t matter that they won’t buy my stuff. The state of publishing today!

2. Anger:

  • How dare that editor reject my story?
  • Did they even read my story?
  • How am I supposed to improve when they don’t even say why they rejected it?
  • I’m going to send them an e-mail giving them a piece of my mind! (Avoid this one at all costs.)

3. Bargaining

  • If I can just sell one story, I’ll be happy forever.
  • If I can just get an agent, I won’t mind my short story rejections.
  • I’m okay if everyone else rejects me as long as one editor picks up my novel.
  • If I can just make boatloads of money, I won’t care what the reviews say.

4. Depression

  • Why did I ever think becoming a writer was a good idea?
  • No one will ever publish anything I write.
  • I am the worst writer in the entire world!

5. Acceptance

  • I am going to write regularly regardless of how often I get rejected.
  • I am going to submit what I write.
  • I am going to work hard on improving my writing.
  • It’s okay for me to be where I am in my writing career.

We all visit the earlier stages from time to time, feeling down in the dumps after three rejections in a day or visiting Duotrope and obsessing over the response stats from relevant markets. Rejection and the subsequent disappointment is an inherent fact of being a writer, and sometimes we tie ourselves into knots in our efforts to deal with it. However, deal with it we must.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch once said, “If you want to fix the problems in your writing life, fix the problems in your personal life.” I believe this includes your emotional life. Again and again, I read about writers who succeeded after collecting hundreds of rejections, writing ten unpublished novels, querying huge numbers of agents. Those writers succeeded because of their tenacity and determination, and because they found a way to work past the emotional difficulty (those first four steps) of rejection. They found a way to accept the hard work and time it would take them to succeed enough that they could keep writing instead of giving up.

We focus so much on results and end goals that sometimes we forget to find ways to appreciate the process. What drew you to writing in the first place? (If it was to become rich and famous, I’ve got a newsflash for you: there are easier ways.) If you’re anything like me, writing is an avocation. However unpleasant it may sometimes be, it also feels necessary, like there’s something inside that needs to be expressed. I write because I must, because when I don’t I feel like a part of me is missing. This is true regardless of exactly where I find myself in my writing career today.

One final warning: comparing yourself to others is the easiest way to throw acceptance out the window. Every writer has a unique career and a unique process. We all learn in different ways and on different time scales. Just because another writer you know is doing things differently or racking up sales more quickly does not mean what you’re doing is wrong or bad or stupid. It just means that you are not them, and thank goodness, because having a distinctive voice is one of the biggest assets a writer can have.

Get a rejection in your e-mail today? Keep writing. Have disappointing sales on your last book? Keep writing. Get a critique that will mean a massive rewrite? Keep writing. Keep writing, keep writing, keep writing! Take breaks if you need them (and sometimes you will), but with the intent of returning to writing once you can. As long as you continue to write and accept your process, you’re doing just fine.

Amy Sundberg is a SF/F and YA writer. Her short fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction and is upcoming in the Fantastic Tales of the Imagination anthology and Redstone Science Fiction. She is a passionate blogger at practicalfreespirit.com and has been a guest blogger at the SFWA blog. She lives in California, dividing her free time between her little dog, her piano, and determinedly reading as many books as possible. You can follow her on twitter at @amysundberg.

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