Sunday, January 29, 2012

So Give Up Already!

Early in my writing career I became fixated on selling something, anything, to a particular children’s magazine. I’d heard it everywhere that a credit from this venerable publication was tantamount to winning an Oscar and not only would my self esteem skyrocket but my goal and dream of becoming a ‘real’ writer would be validated. So, I wrote and wrote. I did research and interviews and revisions. I subbed my very best stuff to them and I established a pretty good rapport with a senior editor. I did a little hip hops around my desk every time I got a word of encouragement or a ‘we like your work, please try us again’. And I did—for years.

In the meantime, I began to realize sales in other venues. I sold short stories, some greeting card verse, essays, non-fiction pieces, poems, crafts, recipes and plays. I landed several larger, more lucrative assignments. Then one day I got my last rejection from the venerable publication. The editor had loved the story, but was concerned about how her imaginary reader might perceive certain aspects of it and so, regrettably, she couldn’t take the piece. A blinding flash split my vision just then and suddenly I knew—I was never going to submit to this magazine again. It was my last rejection from them because I wasn’t going to send them anything else.     

When You Can’t, Don’t

So how many brick walls have you beaten your head against this month? It can be a real ego (or forehead) bruiser to have repeated rejections from your dream market. You may not mind the bruises if you consider it the challenge of your career to finally break the back of a certain market. Or you may begin to seriously wonder why your sadomasochistic side only appears when that publication is in the mix. So ask yourself the following questions.

o   Do I really like their product?
o   Do I understand the tone of the publication?
o   Is it worth it financially to keep trying?

For me all three answers were no. Deep down I had to admit I really didn’t like the magazine that much.  I thought it was out of touch with modern day kids. I tried very hard to understand the tone, even reading a year of back issues, but I kept missing the mark somehow. I concluded that I just couldn’t write benignly enough for them. And finally, the money wasn’t that good. One article they’d refused from me was subsequently purchased elsewhere at a higher fee. That sale, along with the blinding flash, was more than enough to convince me to give up on a publication that had gradually gone from dream to nightmare. If you can’t answer yes to at least two of the questions—my advice?—don’t continue your pursuit of the market.  

Freedom and the Take Away

If you’ve made a decision to unshackle yourself from an impossible dream and move on to new writing adventures, don’t be surprised if your productivity improves dramatically and delightfully. Freedom is a beautiful thing. It pokes at you and says “grow”. You’ll blossom in areas you didn’t even consider when you had your head in the dream cloud. And that’s when editors will look forward to receiving your work. After all, you’ve had a long session in the school of hard knocks and the payoff is coming. 

The lesson I took away from my Quixote-like quest was this; maybe I can’t write for everybody, but I can write. I’m good enough to have more than just that one editor say “send more”. I have and I will, but not to Them. I’m free.


  1. Susan --

    I THINK I see a hint of "specializing" in there...maybe.

    You can't be something you're not. At least that's what I've discovered.

    And, with regard to "send more," just yesterday I received a phone call from one of my editors, asking for a third feature for theor next issue, and normally I just write two.


  2. Steve, spot on with trying to be something you're not. That's why I don't write horror, science fiction, ad copy and sooo much more. I write what I love so I can love what I write.

    Congrats on the phone call asking for "more"! You go gettum, man.

  3. Susan,

    Timely, sage advice and well stated. Been there, done that! Thanks for sharing. :-)

    1. I have the same feeling about a couple of other pubs, but for most of them I'd have to answer 'yes' to number three so I keep trying. Always enjoy your comments, Jennifer!