As I polished the final draft of a short story I submitted today I am reminded how tedious the process of getting published is. Writing in and of itself is grueling. I go through a couple handwritten drafts per story until I'm to a point that I'm happy with most of what's on the page and decide to type and revise the rest on my computer.
Once I've ironed out my grammar, structure, and punctuation as best I can, I send my story to my friends to get an idea of what they think. Usually, I never hear back or their response is simply, "I like it." There's often zero feedback, no specifics. Apparently, my feelings are a delicate flower.
Then I shift to research/submission. For me, it's the most daunting task of writing. Cover letters, samples, queries, synopses, and manuscripts have to be in a precise format that follow the specific instructions of each magazine, agent, or publisher. Every place a writer submits wants something different. Some want bios. Some only accept snail mail. Some only accept emails with the story in the body, instead of attached. Different places read manuscripts at different times of the year with editors that decide if a story fits their publication in as little as a sentence or paragraph.
Getting your work in the right hands at the right time is like playing the lottery. You could write a masterpiece that lands on the desk of someone that just found out they're getting a divorce and possibly be rejected because they're having a bad day. After all, being published is dependent on strangers and people are as emotional as they are unpredictable.
To make matters worse, websites aren't always up-to-date. A few months back, a story of mine was rejected because a website listed the wrong editor, so my cover letter was addressed to the wrong person. The editor that received my story was insulted and told me so in the returning email a couple hours after I sent it. I was tempted to write back, informing them their website and Writer's Market post needed to be updated but decided not to, knowing my frustration was getting the better of me. Learning from my mistake, I now hunt for the most recent issues of magazines I plan to submit to and verify the editor.
The wait for a response is also tiresome. I have two submissions currently out that I've been waiting to hear about since February and April, yet the websites do not give a time frame for a response and suggest writers to be patient and not to contact. My solution has been to write new manuscripts and send them elsewhere, if only to keep my anxiety down.
Over the years, I've amassed a small library of my work. A lot of what is stored on my computer are short stories and a pair of books I gave up on. It occurred to me a while back agents and publishers might have little to no interest in writers that have yet to publish a short story. Lately, I stick to submitting short stories based off the fantasy/science fiction novel I'd like to see in print before I die...not that my death is imminent.
Luckily, rejection has toughened my skin. I no longer pout for weeks and refuse to write because a manuscript is sent back. If anything, I work twice as hard, and I must say, I'm appreciative of editors that offer critiques or suggestions rather than a form letter. For an editor to take the time to do so tells me my work is improving and I'm closer to reaching my goal. Unpublished still, that's about all I can ask for.