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  • Jan Flynn

Content warning: impolite language

I wrote a Thing! A Thing that got published!

Photo by Hans Eiskonen on Unsplash

All writers face rejection

All writers who wish to be published, that is. If you’re journaling or blogging or sending out clever holiday letters — and I have seen some phenomenal writing in the second and third of those categories — and not submitting to agents or editors or publishers, then you are immune from getting those emails.

Those are the emails that usually begin with, “Thank you for sending your work to Exquisitely Erudite Press. While we receive many outstanding submissions, we are unfortunately unable to . . . ” and then you stop reading because why continue? They don’t want whatever you sent them, and that’s all there is to it.

But if you are trying to get your stories, essays, opinion pieces, or book picked up by a publisher whom you do not have to pay or who might even pay you, then, as anyone who knows anything about writing will tell you, you’re going to get rejected.

A lot.

One of the best books on writing I’ve read — an opinion shared with many, many other writers — is Stephen King’s aptly titled On Writing. In it, he tells of his early days as a writer, back when rejections were sent by mail. He pinned all his rejection letters to his wall with a nail. Eventually, there were so many that the nail gave way, so he replaced it with a spike.

It’s good to know this happened to Stephen King, because rejection certainly happens to me, more often than not. I keep a spreadsheet of submissions, color-coded by result: green for acceptances; red for rejections; gray for ghosting when I haven’t gotten any response at all (which is a guess: I’ve gotten rejections a year or more after sending a story to a publisher. I shudder to think what those poor editors’ inboxes must look like).

My spreadsheet, which I’ve been keeping for years now, looks like somebody with bad skin busted an artery. Huge splotches of red, patches of gray, and a few lines of green here and there.

At least I don’t have to look at a spike in my wall.

But sometimes, the answer is yes

Those slender veins of green mean a lot. Your work is not only considered good enough, it’s considered outstanding among what are almost always hundreds if not thousands of other submissions. And it’s a good fit for that particular publication at that particular time. The stars have to line up just right for that to happen, and when they do, it’s very, very, nice.

There are stories I’ve written that I’m proud of and quite attached to that have yet to find a good home despite my sending them out, all proofread and polished and looking their best, to any number of outlets. Sometimes it’s a sad befuddlement as to why editors don’t warm to my stories; other times I roll my eyes.

One story I wrote, with a humorous-horror-fantasy flavor, concerned a monster who took up residence under a town’s bridge, randomly eating its residents until the town council negotiated a deal with it that involved a festive, yearly sacrifice. One of the journals I sent it to turned it down with the comment that they didn’t believe the monster would speak English.

“It’s a talking monster,” I muttered as I deleted the email.

So when an agent or editor really gets what you’re trying to do with your novel, or your story, or your creative nonfiction, it’s a delicious, hard-won validation. You may have been querying that novel or sending out that story for months if not years, after pouring your heart and soul into writing and revising it.

As we writerly types remind ourselves, it only takes one “yes” — and when you get that yes, it’s time to crack open the bubbly.

Once in a while, you get a lovely surprise

A year or so back, just to gun my sputtering creative engine, I sat down and wrote a short, strange little piece. It was in a quirky form, with a quirky theme and topic. It was fiction but it followed exactly zero of the rules about plot and pacing or even characterization.

And I really liked it.

Still, I couldn’t imagine any of the literary magazines or anthologies or really, anywhere, that would accept it for publication. That was okay; I’d enjoyed writing it, and that’s the only reward over which most of us writers have any real say, most of the time. I filed it with my other orphan pieces.

Until that is, I stumbled on an online journal with the refreshing name of Bullshit Lit. In contrast to the high-minded lit mags in which I usually strive to be included, Bullshit is like the smart class clown in a room full of overly earnest eggheads obsessed with their GPAs. Here’s a quote from its “About” page:

Inspired by a stack of silly poems, BULLSHIT is the antithesis to those flowery submissions calls for, like, “the deepest echo in your heartcanyon.” We don’t take ourselves that seriously.We like to see your worst. Your trash. Get funky with it. We love silly poems, nonsense prose, and lazy lore.

Veronica Bennett, who describes herself as “a poet, editor, web and graphic designer, barista, and a whole bunch of other stuff” is the one-woman powerhouse behind Bullshit Lit. Her wonky but wonderfully-designed publication attracts contributors with serious writing cred, including authors who have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize (which, in writing circles, is a BFD).

I didn’t know that at the time, but I was delighted by their call for submissions, and what did I have to lose? I sent in my weird little piece.

Within two weeks, I got the acceptance letter

In the world of publishing, that’s like hyper speed. Better yet, the “yes” was worded in such a way that it will remain forever embroidered on my heart’s whoopee cushion:

Jan! Ok, this is fucking phenomenal. Thank you so much for sending us this fine bullshit—we’d love to publish it! We’ll have “The FAQ Page From the Chimera Rescue Society Website” online on Thurs., August 18, 2022. LMK if you’d like us to tag you on Twitter when we post the link! Best,Veronica EICBullshit

It’s a red-letter day — make that a green-letter day — when a writer gets such a wholehearted response. I flagged my calendar for the pub date and highlighted my submission spreadsheet in a happy green.

And now, the thing I wrote — seriously, it’s not definable as a poem, story, or essay, so it’s referred to on Bullshit as “A Thing by Jan M. Flynn” — is online for your reading pleasure. Or confusion, we’ll see.

You can find it here: be sure to click on the drop-down arrows for each “FAQ.” It’s not long, not heavy on the head, and I’d love to know your opinion of it. Even if you think it’s total bullshit.

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