Writing short fiction is never easy. Getting the first short story you’ve ever written published is really hard. Here in this article, I’ve listed, based on my personal experience, the things you need to know or expect right after you’ve finished writing a story.
1. Right after you’ve finished writing a story, you are excited to send it out for publication.
Who wouldn’t be excited if you finished writing a story? You start imagining how it would be presented on an online magazine page or on a page in print, how your family, friends, and other people would praise you for coming up with an excellent piece, how you would feel exquisitely delighted as you look at your name right under the title of the published story. But then you realize you should imagine first how you would be able to send out the story to different publications and get published in one.
If you don’t know yet, there is such thing as “simultaneous submissions,” in which you can submit your piece to different publications at once. Just make sure to carefully read the submission guidelines of the publication to know if they allow simultaneous submissions. Don’t worry because most literary spaces allow it; they understand because most fiction editors are writers, too.
You may be excited to send out your piece to different publications, but you don’t do that carelessly. You still have to check it for any kinds of errors. You need to put it aside first. Don’t go back to it until at least a week is over. You may not see the errors if you go back to it right away. Being excited after a story has been completed is normal, but don’t let your excitement turn you into an incompetent writer. ¡Cálmate!
2. You realize after going back to the finished piece that it does need a lot of revision.
Putting aside a finished piece for a week may still be a careless suggestion; you can always take longer than that. Over time, you will know when is the right time to go back to a finished piece. And trust me, you will realize that your story does need a lot of revision—from punctuation errors and other minor ones to awkward phrasing and major inconsistencies. Sometimes it takes a lot of time to edit major inconsistencies and omit unnecessary or redundant dialogue.
3. You don’t feel as if you’ve given your best to the piece—something is definitely missing.
This may not be true in others’ case, but it is in mine. After reading the entire piece again and again, I realize that there is something missing. Sometimes I don’t know where; it just feels as if the whole thing is not enough. When this happens to you and you don’t know how to resolve it, I suggest you seek the help of your honest friends. They don’t have to be writers or editors to take a careful look at the story for you. A good reader—and sometimes even a bad one—may tell you what is missing in the piece.
4. It’s been three weeks, but you still find a word to replace, an awkward phrasing to smooth out, or even a sentence or two to cut out.
This is a bit funny. I don’t know about other writers, but I am this every time. Editing to me seems endless; I always find a thing to change in the piece as I read it again and again. That I cannot see the errors all at once is always a mystery to me. This is the very reason why you need to put aside a finished piece for a while before editing it. You may not be able to see all the errors. And remember that you cannot send a story to a publication unless you’re sure that the story is polished. Even excellent stories get rejected for some reason, so you can’t expect that your unpolished story will be accepted for publication.
5. You feel like you don’t know what to do with your life after sending out a story.
Like when you’ve just finished watching a spectacular movie or reading an engaging book, you feel lost for a few moments; sometimes longer. Unless you’re writing other stories that you can go back to, you can’t seem to think of other things to do after submitting a story. You can’t always have more ideas for stories, so you can’t start one right after another has been sent out. In my case, Korean TV series, Thalia music, and Céline Dion music are sources of inspiration, and I go back to them when I can’t seem to be productive for the rest of the day or week. You can always do your other hobbies while waiting for feedback from those publications.
6. Waiting for feedback from publications feels like you’ll grow old still doing it.
If you don’t have any experience waiting for feedback for a piece you’ve sent out, you will get an idea just by reading the submission guidelines of a publication. Sometimes they will give you a hint about how long you need to wait to receive feedback. If they don’t provide any information on that, please know that most publications give their feedback after a month or so. They can take as longer as four months or even half a year. That’s why simultaneous submissions are usually allowed. It’s a bit unfair for a writer to wait that long for just one publication. Waiting for a response for a very long time is normal, considering the volume of submissions that a publication receives.
Just make sure to send withdrawal letters to other publications once your story is accepted somewhere else. You will be reminded about this in their submission guidelines. You just have to follow this, and there will be no problems. Be patient while waiting for a response. Write other stories or do other hobbies while waiting. Fiction writing definitely teaches you how to be patient.
7. You’ve been rejected!
Ow, this is painful. But normal. Please don’t distress yourself. Rejection in fiction writing is normal in that no matter how good you are as a writer and no matter how excellent your story is, you will get rejected. It’s inevitable. They say that rejection is subjective, and I agree. Sometimes it is a matter of taste of the reader or editor taking a careful look at your piece. Sometimes your piece is well written, but it does not match the theme, the needs of the publication, or the publication itself. That’s why it is always suggested that before submitting a story to a publication, read at least one of their issues first to get an idea of what they love to publish.
Receiving rejection letters is painful, but know that this is how it is in short fiction publication. If you feel like you can’t handle your first-ever rejection, visit rejectomancy.com; I promise you’ll feel a lot better.
8. You’ve been praised by the editor but … still rejected.
I really want to change this to: “You’ve been rejected but … praised by the editor.” Since receiving rejection letters is quite the norm in the literary community, especially when you’re just starting up, receiving one with a personal note from the editor is something you should be proud of. Fiction editors, because of tons of submissions they receive in one reading period, do not have time to send personal emails. Be warned that the first rejection letter you’ll ever receive may read like a template. Don’t be surprised because it is—a template.
Receiving a personal note—sometimes praising how excellent or well written your story is or suggesting a few changes in your story—is very rare, so you should be happy with just this. It means that the the editor has found some potential in the story and that another editor from a different publication may like it and finally publish it.
When I received my first-ever rejection letter with a personal note from the editor—that was after receiving a lot of standard form rejections already—I was really happy. The editor hinted that I had an engaging plot and suggested a few points to make it even more engaging. Although I still have yet to get published by said publication, I won’t forget that particular personal note. When you receive a personal note, do not forget to thank the editor and send another story to the publication.
9. You start thinking of reasons why your story has been rejected.
This is just normal. Even if you already know that a publication cannot publish all the excellent submissions they receive, you still think of reasons why your story has been rejected. You even receive praise from the editor but … the story is still rejected. Well, I will give you another reason, and this I’ve learned from reading other articles by other fiction writers. Your story is perfect, and it seems like there’s no reason for an editor to reject it. But how about they’ve already accepted a story that has a similar plot or theme as yours? The editor giving you feedback may or may not indicate in the email that you’ve been rejected because they’ve already accepted a similar story.
Stop thinking of other reasons why your story has been rejected. If you feel like revising the story, then do that. Once again, most writers believe that rejection is subjective, and you don’t have to take every rejection you get as a reflection on the quality of your writing. These exact words you will find in some of the rejection letters you will receive—promise!
10. You realize you’re bound to collect rejection letters no matter what.
Even if you are not able to read this article or any other articles on fiction submission and rejection, you’ll still be able to realize, after receiving a handful of rejection letters, that you’re bound to collect more of them. It’s inevitable, and you don’t even have a chance to try to avoid it. I know some writers who have been fiction editors themselves and have been able to publish books; they still receive rejection letters. It is easy to say that all fiction writers are bound to collect rejection letters no matter what. So don’t ever think that only you seem to collect rejection letters from different publications. We all have our fair—sometimes unfair even—share of rejection letters.
11. After a rejection from a publication, you read its newest issue and find that your rejected story is way better than those stories published.
This also happens as part of your search for reasons why a story of yours has been rejected. When you can’t find enough reasons, you want to see the stories published by the publication. I am honest to myself most of the time, and I say to myself that a story is good if I think it’s good and that a story is bad if I think it’s bad. Of course, this kind of opinion cannot be agreed with by everyone. Sometimes I find those stories published inferior to the one I submitted. I won’t say this is normal because there is a big possibility that this is just me. Let me know if you have the same feeling every time.
12. You keep it to yourself—of course—and do better with your writing.
There is no point in telling other people that the story you’ve submitted to a publication is better than the ones they’ve published. You will look pathetic. Of course, you will keep it to yourself. You know that although those fiction writers you see published have an MFA in Creative Writing, you can also do it with just your talent and writing skills. Believe in yourself. Be patient. Keep on writing. Don’t stop until you get published. Once published, don’t stop until you become an established fiction writer. After receiving a rejection letter, it’s better to do better with your writing. We can learn even from those stories we think are inferior to ours.
13. You actually don’t know how to do better with your writing.
No one can exactly tell us how we can do better with our writing. Don’t be too confident, especially when you are just starting up. There is always room for improvement, even for those established writers. We can’t always say that rejection is subjective because sometimes there is really something missing or off in our submission. After being rejected by a publication, you sometimes find yourself at a loss to do anything about your writing. When this happens to me, I look for articles on the subject. Like this one I’m writing maybe? That’s one reason I started this blog. We can find some solutions to our problems by reading articles or other stories published in different publications.
14. You’ve been accepted for publication!
Why is this included in the truths about writing short fiction? As long as you don’t give up, as long as you keep writing, and as long as you’re patient with all the rejection letters you receive, you will get published one day. That is the truth.
The moment you receive an acceptance letter is such as an indescribable experience. When I received the acceptance letter for my short story, Rosé, I was jumping in my seat. I was telling people on Facebook that a story of mine had just been accepted for publication even before I could respond to the acceptance letter. Really, you can’t contain your happiness in these moments.
You will get published one day—believe me. Look at yours truly now, your queen of the slush pile. I started writing short fiction in late January this year but am already publishing stories now. Earlier than I expected. If you’ve already published a few stories, congratulations! Good job. Keep it up. Write on. I know you will publish even more.
Header Image: Andrew Neel