Submission Angst

Posted on August 18, 2006


Something has always puzzled me about the business of writing short stories. It’s a phenomenon that seems mostly to strike newer writers, but it seems that more experienced authors aren’t immune either from the way it has consumed enormous amounts of energy on writing related blogs, forums and discussion boards ever since writers discovered the internet.

I call it “submission angst”, and it goes something like this:

1/ Writer sits down at keyboard armed with a new, fresh, exciting idea for a story.

2/ Over a period of days/weeks/months the story takes shape. It is finely shaped, honed and crafted. It might just be the best story the author has written. It’s certainly the most recent, and therefore it is the one he is most excited about.

3/ Writer scours the market lists for the perfect venue for his story. Then he prints it out, straightens the paper clip, slips it carefully into an envelope and rushes it off to the post office. Watching it disappear into the little red slot, his heart is giddy. (I’m being intentionally traditional because the image is better, but same goes for e-subs).

4/ Writer waits. While waiting he imagines his title and byline on the contents page. He wonders if there will be accompanying artwork. The reader response and reviews will be universally positive. There’s a fair chance of being picked up by a Years Best anthology. The story might even feature on the awards shortlists…

5/ He tells himself to get a grip. Smiles at his foolish extrapolation, but that after all is supposed to be his stock in trade. Still, being objective, it’s a very good story. It’s certainly better than half the stories in any given issue of his chosen market. If the editor is as excited by it as he is, then it’s a shoe-in for publication.

6/ Days/weeks/months pass. Nothing happens. From week three, our author starts checking his email more frequently than usual. He’s often late because he waits for the postman to arrive before leaving for work every morning. Still nothing.

7/ Writer wonders: did my letter/email arrive? Have I been waiting all this time and they never got it? Or has the reply got lost in the mail? What if they sent a contract the same day and it never arrived? Should I send them a query, just to check – or will that earn me a black mark for being pushy?

8/ Writer checks the available information about the market. The website says they hope to respond within three months. That sounds rather woolly. Perhaps intentionally so?

9/ Author looks up what the online communities have to say about it and the seeds of doubt, worry and injustice that had begun to germinate during the Great Silence are fertilized by the mulch of communal dissatisfaction.

10/ Some time later…the story is either accepted or rejected. Writer either laughs at their own foolishness and forgives the overworked publisher for the understandable delay, or demotes them for future choice of market and picks the next market on the list.

Now, all of this is a tad exaggerated, but not that much. And I understand the frission of wondering what someone is going to make of your story.


For the amateur writer (which, financially speaking, most of us are – let’s face it if you’re earning money you can live off from writing fiction your relationship with the slushpile is going to be different to the rest of us), does it really matter how long it takes? Really? Does it really matter that editor A replies to you three weeks (or six months) faster than editor B?

Long time ago I learned a useful trick that keeps the stories that are sitting on editors’ desks out of mind where they ought to be. It’s called “writing something else”. Best cure for submission angst there is – write a new story, and make it even better, fresher and more exciting than the one before.

And the added bonus is, when you finally get those replies in, they come as a nice surprise. I’ve received rejection letters from markets that I’d forgotten existed.

Feel free to disagree. Perhaps I’m not adopting a professional enough attitude. Perhaps I’m not treating my work with the respect it’s due (and if I don’t no-one else will)… but you know what? I write because I enjoy writing. Publication is great, but it’s secondary to the creative process itself.

Life’s too short to get upset about the length of time these things take.

Of course, when you’ve got someone waiting for you to deliver something it’s a different story.

And since this is my lunch hour, I should be working on the Nov.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got better things to do…