Sixtieth time’s a charm: on getting published after being rejected by fifty-nine literary magazines

In the spring of 2018 I signed up for my first writers workshop through the New Orleans Writers Workshop. Outside of taking a semester of creative writing in college, which did not function in the same capacity as a workshop as I would later learn, I really had no clue what to expect. After a long hiatus from writing, I had a burst of creative writing and was looking for an outlet and community through which I could channel, challenge, and improve upon my writing. Through my workshop, which focused on creative nonfiction, I produced one piece that I was particularly proud of that received acclaim from an otherwise critical (but supportive) workshop group. I entitled the piece “Mourning Triptych,” an essay comprised of three vignettes of my late family members. With encouragement from the workshop’s facilitator, I entered the 2018 Faulkner Wisdom Competition, an international literary writing contest based out of New Orleans. Of 110 entries in the creative nonfiction category, my essay made it onto the shortlist of 10 submissions selected by the category’s judge. I was elated by what felt like my first real literary accomplishment as a writer, and was instilled with a sense of confidence that I had never experienced as a writer before.

With a shortlisted essay in hand, I took to Submittable, a cloud-based submission platform and one of my most frequently visited sites on the internet, and submitted “Mourning Triptych” to just about any publication that had an open call for creative nonfiction submissions. I was sure that the acceptances would start pouring in in no time.

One month passed. I had received a few rejections, but from journals like The Iowa Review and Kenyon Review. I knew I was aiming high there.

Then another month passed. Now I was starting to receive rejections from lesser-known journals whose missions seemed to align perfectly with what my essay conveyed. The rejections were sprinkled in with some almost acceptances by Bayou Magazine and Stoneboat, which kept me cautiously optimistic, though not fully.

In February of 2019, five months after I’d began submitting “Mourning Triptych” to journals, I attended a day-long publishing bootcamp with the Author’s Guild, hoping that this experience would illuminate the mysterious inner-workings of literary publishing. During one session with a literary agent, I stood up in a room of 50 or so writers and spoke honestly about the experience of my attempts to get “Mourning Triptych” published. There was an audible collective “aww” of disappointment from my peers at the bootcamp when I confessed that I had been rejected from almost 20 different magazines and was at a loss for what else I could possibly do. In spite of her status as an agent, she had no wisdom to offer me outside of staying focused, positive, and believing in the work that I wanted to publish; to be able to answer the question why should this work be published? if I needed to. I was disappointed to not receive any actionable feedback from the agent, but felt even firmer in the notion that I needed to remain confident in my piece if I thought it was deserving of publication.

Three months later, I thought I was about to receive my 60th rejection from a publication when I received a notification from Submittable informing me that The Rush, Mount Saint Mary University’s literary magazine edited by MFA students, selected “Mourning Triptych” for its June 2019 online issue. It was so surreal to see the green “ACCEPTED” banner across the Submittable portal, and gratifying to know that my patience and perseverance paid off.

While this may be an optimistic takeaway, the experience of unfettered rejection taught me that confidence manifests publication, and confidence in the face of rejection is key. I currently have another essay out of for publication that I labored over for three months, but admittedly, I don’t have the same confidence in this piece that I did in “Mourning Triptych.” The jury is still out on that one.

You can check out “Mourning Triptych” in The Rush or on my Medium page.



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