I started submitting to paying markets in May 2010. Since then, I’ve sent pieces out to 23 different markets. Of those 23 markets, I’ve been published in 4. Duotrope (a great resource for finding markets) lists my acceptance rate at just over 7%. As low as that number may look, it’s not bad for a first year of publishing attempts. But to get to that 7%, I spent a lot of time just digging for markets and planning back-up markets and waiting for rejections. I was also writing the whole time, trying to keep a cycle of work in the process while also creating new work to introduce into the process.
The last two pieces I submitted were both rejected. After every rejection, I review what I’ve submitted to see if there are improvements that need to be made. Did I overlook a few typos? Could the opening of the story be a little stronger? Is the ending a good ending? Was my formatting wonky? Did I spell my name right?
Usually, I review a story, polish up a few tiny bits and pieces, and send it out again. This time, with these two pieces–a non-fiction memoir and a short horror story–I found myself in an embarrassing place: Neither submission was very good. Grammatically, they were perfectly fine. In fact, even in story structure, they were in good shape. But the actual stories being told? Not great.
In fact, I just revised the horror story over the last two days. The result? 2300 more words, bringing the word count over 5000. The memoir will need a complete rewrite, and I don’t mean a rearrangement or a chunk cut out; I mean I am starting from a blank page and completely rebuilding the thing.
This is submission fatigue. You write and submit and write and submit and write and submit and you fight to find markets and then find another market when the first market rejects you, and then you find yet another market when the second market rejects you, and on and on. Rejection is the default status of any creative business. If you can’t accept it, you won’t make it past the first year or two. But even when you make it past the first year, there’s still a chance some part of your brain will shut down and have you putting out questionable work because you reach a point where you’re in so deep looking for markets and tracking submission times and trying to work on a new piece that you’ll send out anything that feels finished even when it needs another day or week or month before it’s truly ready.
And that’s the difference: Finished vs. Ready. Anything can be finished. I can finish cooking dinner. I can finish painting a room. But it won’t be ready until the food cools down or the walls dry. Writing is exactly the same. You can finish a story, but it doesn’t mean it’s ready to be in your submission queue.
So, what do you do? How do you spot it? I think you have to miss it the first couple of times it happens. You have to let a story go and float in the submission ether for a couple of months so that you can recognize its issues when it comes back to you with a rejection. Without that break, you won’t see it. You’ll be too close, hoping too much, and you won’t notice that what you have isn’t what you need to have and what you want to have.
But, if you need an early-warning system, pay attention to how much you’re writing. Looking back, my writing slowed considerably in May. I was coming up with ideas and the starts of stories, but they weren’t going beyond that. They were just hanging around in the lounge of my brain, splitting a bottle of wine and waiting for me to show up and do something. I had some personal matters come up in May that took a great deal of my energy, but even when those matters had cleared, I still wasn’t writing. I didn’t write for most of June, either. The first time I sat down and wrote for a noticeable length of time was this week. The rejection for the horror piece came in, and I sat down and pounded out 3500 words on a new story before adding 2300 words to the horror story.
And the horror story now? Is almost ready. Last night, I thought it was ready to go, but today, as I tried to track down markets, I realized it’s not quite there. I need one more scene, maybe two, to make sure one of my themes ties up properly. Back in May, when I was deep in the submission grind, I probably would have fired it off as is. But my head is clear now, the fatigue has worn off, and I can see there’s still work to be finished.
If you’re in the submission grind and find yourself writing less, find yourself getting rejected more, read the signs and step away for a week or two. Read a book or two. Goof off on the Internet. Dive headfirst into your comic book collection, and don’t resurface until you’ve read the entirety of two series (as I did). Your writing is only good for as long as you can tell it needs work. Submission fatigue removes that ability. It weakens your writing. It weakens your chances. It weakens your faith in yourself and your talent. Recognize it, and fight it by doing something else for awhile. I used my time off to design and launch my anthology, and I’m happy I did. I was able to be creative and have fun and not have to worry–for a few weeks at least–that I’d have a rejection waiting in my inbox at the end of the day. Do the same. Your brain will thank you, and you will thank yourself.