We’ve been hard at work putting together the Winter 2012 edition of The Copperfield Review, making the usual tough decisions about which pieces will go in and which won’t.
Contrary to popular belief, editors don’t find a sadistic satisfaction from sending out rejection letters. There is that one editor with a voodoo doll and a case of push pins, but that’s another post. Most editors are writers too, and we know there’s nothing like the prick of a rejection letter to pop the air from a writer’s bubble.
There have been times when I received too many rejections in a row and I couldn’t help but take them personally. Was it my storytelling? My habit of submitting acrostic poetry? Was my Aunt Ellie just wrong and I really don’t have a way with words? But then I became an editor, and I realized that decisions aren’t always about storytelling or talent.
The Secret is No Great Secret
Here’s the big secret that’s really no secret at all: most decisions are based on personal preference. There’s no complex system editors use to determine quality (think of the formula in the textbook meant to determine a poem’s value in Dead Poet’s Society). There’s no list of writers to accept or reject. It’s not about what MFA program you went to, or if you even have an MFA. Not everyone’s style is to everyone’s taste. That’s it. If we turn down a piece at Copperfield, that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s just not for us at that time.
At The Copperfield Review, we tend to have more literary, experimental tastes. I have great respect for Hemingway-esque simplicity, but it’s not the kind of work I’m drawn to publish. I love work that plays with, stretches, challenges the English language. We’re blessed to write in the English language. Truly. Our wealth of vocabulary, limitless possibilities for structure, and ability to be straightforward or lost in a stream of consciousness makes our language a vast artist’s toolbox to use to paint pictures in words.
One Thing is Too Much Like the Other
Since Copperfield is a journal of historical fiction, we get a lot of submissions set in the same era—World War II and the Old West are two of the most popular. But because we receive so many stories set during the same time, we can’t publish them all. I know the consensus is that you should read literary journals to see if those journals have published pieces similar to the work you want to submit. Generally, that’s true. But let some time pass if you want to submit a story on exactly the same subject as one that’s just been published. If you see a story in Copperfield about the American Civil War in our Spring edition, wait at least until Autumn before you send in your Gettysburg tale. We’re open to it, just not so soon.
Once we received twenty World War II submissions for the same edition. No joke. There was nothing particularly wrong with any of the stories, but we couldn’t publish twenty stories on the same subject. We rejected eighteen of them, most of which might have been published if they had been sent at another time.
Which brings us to the million dollar question: how can you know exactly when to submit your work? Unfortunately, you can’t. Sometimes journals ask for specific types of submissions for certain editions, but otherwise timing can be the luck of the draw. There is an element of luck involved in sending your work to the right publisher at the right time. But the more research you do, and the more you submit, the more opportunities you have to turn the tides of timing in your favor.
I know the form letter rejections aren’t very helpful for writers, but they’re a necessary evil due to the number of submissions most journals receive. Just remember, the next time you receive one, it’s not about your talent. It’s about the editors, their personal tastes for the type of writing they prefer, and the type of stories they’re looking to publish at the time.
For tips on submitting to editors, check here.