When the label on a hopeful submission to your favourite lit mag switches from “In Progress” to “Declined,” you know the steps you’ll take, right? If your hopes were high, this rejection might have you sobbing into a bowl of cookies and cream. If you’ve built up more resilience in the submission game it might be a braggy #100rejections tweet.
But, what’s the plan for when the label changes to “Accepted”?
Sure, you’ll probably start by jumping up and down and freaking the heck out of your cats or children. And a celebratory bowl of that same cookies and cream might follow. But what comes after that?
How you manage good news in your writing life is equally, if not more important, than how you weather the bad and the ugly news. There is an art to handling a journal acceptance. And there are steps you can take to foster the writing community you need to have a long and satisfying writing career.
Writing is a career of attrition, as one of my early writing teachers dryly, and accurately, put it. Writers who toil in a room of their own without finding connection and support may perish in those rooms. Or, at least their careers will.
Every opportunity you have to build the network you need to weather the hard and often lonely slog of writing is a golden one. When you publish work, this is one such opportunity—a chance to find writers as committed and ambitious as you are, who will champion you and your work.
Start with a Pat On Your Back—You’ve Earned It
Congratulations! Your piece leapt out of the slush pile and into the top 1-3% of submissions. Is it time to rest on your laurels and soak in this win? Yes. Of course, it is. Savour the moment. Once you’ve savoured, however, go on to forge those deeper connections in the writing community.
Here are five steps you can take to do this:
1) Promote the Magazine
Before your issue comes out, you can help with its promotion. I know first-hand that there are so many people toiling behind the scenes at a journal—way more than you might think—to bring your work from slush pile to printed page or screen. They make a lot with minimal resources.
You can choose to be an additional resource. Promoting the lit mag like you’re invested in this labour of love—because, of course, you are—will deepen your connection to the journal’s editors and readers alike.
You can share their upcoming deadlines, events, or promotions using social media or in emails to other writers. You can attend their live events and invite all your friends.
The magazine editors and the community that supports the magazine will remember you as someone who helped boost their promotional efforts, and will surely pave the way for future submissions.
Bonus: you’ll also help make sure the journal is still around to publish you next time.
2) Share Extra Copies
Pick up extra copies of the journal. Magazines often offer additional copies to contributors at around cost. (Ask them about this if they don’t mention it in your acceptance email.) Then give the extra issues away to people who helped you publish that particular piece or who would benefit from reading the journal. Think of writing mentors, writing-group friends, family, and other writers you want to share in your success.
Never imagine this is bragging. You earned this success, yet it’s also much more significant than you. There’s so much in one issue of a lit mag, and sharing copies is a celebration of all that went into its publication.
3) Devour the Issue
When the issue lands in your hands or is out online, read it all. As you read, consider why the editors selected your piece. For editors, the submissions selected are as much about the fit and resonance with other works as about the quality of individual submissions. Do you notice connections to themes, images, or do you even recognize a narrative arc? How does the other writing resonate with your own?
Reading all the pieces gives you more insight to help you connect with both the editors and your writing peers published in the issue. You’ll grow as a writer by genuinely engaging with the published work. (By the way, few writers do this, so let this be your advantage.) It’ll also prepare you for more direct connections in the steps to come.
4) Reach Out to Writers You Admire
Take a moment to think about how much work you put into your writing, and imagine how meaningful it would be to hear from another writer who is at your level of craft about what they admired in your work. Then give this experience to another writer. It may spark an instant bond, or start a slow-burn toward deeper connection down the road.
If you love a story or poem, tell the writer. Look them up on social media, on their website, or seek them out at events. Tell them precisely what you enjoyed in their work. You’ll know because you devoured the issue.
When you start to build your reputation as an engaged, generous, and kind writer, you will draw your writing community to you.
5) Practice Gratitude
Write thank you notes to anyone who helped you publish in the journal. Doing this will deepen the community you have, the people who already support your writing.
Give thanks to the editors, the mentors, the workshop readers, the writing instructors, and even the babysitters who helped you take your first writing classes. Give thanks to friends who didn’t roll their eyes when you said you wanted to be a writer.
Gratitude is memorable and contagious. I don’t remember every writer I’ve published in journals, but I do remember all those who sent me notes of appreciation—especially the handwritten ones. Also, I find myself following their careers. The effect of their letters was to engage my interest in them because they recognized the investment I made in their writing. And I suspect the people you share gratitude with will be more inclined to give you a reference, make an introduction, and give trusted advice further along the road.
The next (or first) time you publish in lit mags, follow these five steps to forge strong bonds with other writers and editors. You’ll shore up the support you will need for the harder days of writing. And, alas, there will be many rejections to come. It’s a big part of the writing life.
Author and literary magazine editor Rachel Thompson is the host of Lit Mag Love: A Podcast for Creative Writers Who Want to Publish.