Where Are My Rejection Slips?

Several writers advocate an annual goal of 100 rejection slips from writing contests, fellowships, and residencies. The argument is that targeting that many rejections means the writer is sharing their work with the world. And on the way to that 100 rejections, writers might receive some acceptances.

I am conflicted about whether that goal is a useful one. Several articles, like this one on Literary Hub, state that it’s actually hard to receive 100 rejections. I’d argue that it’s easy to receive that many if the writer takes a scattershot approach to submitting and sends just a couple of stories to every contest they can find. Especially if the person fails to polish the stories they have and doesn’t care if it’s a good fit for the contest’s theme.

But doing that would be extraordinarily expensive and a waste of everyone’s time. After all, someone has the task of reading through every submission and winnowing the pile down to the few contenders for the prize.

I haven’t read short stories for literary journals, but I have been a judge for a writing group’s annual awards for novels and novellas. Let me tell you, some authors submitted work that read as if it was a first draft of the novel, not a finished book. I guarantee I won’t purchase their future work after seeing their approach to those contests.

I’m guessing other judges had similar reactions to entries. And while the world of arts and letters can feel too large to find one’s place in, it’s also insanely small. Today’s slush pile reader at an important literary journal could be tomorrow’s agent or acquisitions editor. And they may remember the name of the writer who submitted an unpolished, poorly matched entry to that contest three years ago.

I’ve been sending out submissions this year, and I find the process of picking which contests to enter is a lot of work. It starts with reviewing the guidelines and ensuring that my entry uses the correct formatting. Smart writers take the contest’s advice to read past winning entries to heart. Using insight and professionalism to choose which opportunities to pursue requires setting aside time for research. And times is something we all lack.

I’ve received a few rejections so far, and I’m not surprised by that. More surprising are the entries that ended back in March but still haven’t responded. Knowing these contests always get hundreds of entries makes me skeptical that my work is a serious contender. But waiting for that rejection email is starting to make me nutty.

A few contests or journals have similar styles or themes, and I’ve been able to send the same story to a few of those. Several other anthologies or contests have prompted me to start new stories that might be a better fit. But it takes time to draft and revise a new piece, and I find myself rushing to meet deadlines. I’m not sure how those 100-rejections-as-a-goal writers manage to get close to their goal. Right now, I feel like submitting a handful of stories to possible contests could become a fulltime job.

And don’t even ask me about the poetry contests and calls for submission. When reading through lists of upcoming deadlines, it seems like there are two or three times as many places to submit poetry as there are to submit short stories. Lots of places for essays and creative non-fiction too. It’s astonishing. Especially when I’m certain that the only people reading all these journals are other writers and poets as they prepare their own submissions.

And this is just the literary fiction crowd. Commercial/genre fiction (sci-fi, fantasy, romance, mystery, Westerns, etc.) have their own list of places to submit. And there is little to no crossover between the literary and commercial crowds, which sucks for those of us who love and want to write both.

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