I once read an article that compared the process of submitting stories and any form of dating. Often you’ll find a magazine/date that you really like, but will be rejected anyway. It turns out that you/your piece isn’t a good fit for them, despite your own interest, and there’s no way to “fix” this. All that’s left to do is to move on to someone else/another magazine and try again.
I can count the number of rejections I’ve received for Swamp Gas on both hands, but I’m not discouraged. It’s a matter of finding the right fit for my story, not a matter of changing it to fit someone else’s standard. Similarly, if we stop to evaluate and change ourselves after every failed date, we would get nowhere and probably lose our sense of self. If we tried to change ourselves to fit the standards of our perceived “soulmate,” the facade is often a failure. You can’t shoehorn yourself to fit another’s ideal. For similar reasons, you can’t shoehorn your own story to fit the guidelines of a magazine or agent. They’ll know, trust me.
Tonight I submitted Swamp Gas to a new magazine, but I’m nervous about the idea. Typically with magazines there is a page on their website listing submission guidelines. They include more specific details on what they’re looking for (genres, styles, word counts, and so on), as well as instructions on how to submit (whether through email or the website, what to put in the subject line, how to word the cover letter, etc.) Usually these guidelines are more or less the same across the board, but if there is any variation, it is important to take that into account. This site has little in the way of guidelines. It could mean that they are more lax in their standards than other magazines. It could mean that they are a new magazine and haven’t worked out what their guidelines are yet. It could mean that they have standards that they neglected to write down. And there’s always that feeling in the back of my mind that I missed something, no matter how many times I check the page.
Dating profiles are a lot like this as well. Earlier today I stumbled across one profile for a cute girl that was nearly bare. All I could make out about her was that she liked watching Netflix and preferred cats to dogs. I hadn’t seen the shows that she mentioned, so I couldn’t talk about those. And a cats vs. dogs debate goes nowhere and does nothing to impress a prospect. What’s left for there to talk about, then? In the end, I opted to pass.
I’m not sure why I was less cautious about submitting to the magazine than messaging that girl. Perhaps getting my story published is, on some level, more important to me than potential romance at this point in my life.