Here's the thing. I want to help other writers. Like a lot. I want to save them the heartache I suffered. I was a homeless drug addict for ten years; I almost died in a motorcycle accident, shattering my pelvis and breaking my back. And I am telling you, as bad as that was, my spirits were still buoyed higher than when I first started submitting to literary magazines. I swear, the rejection played in to my second divorce (well, that and my ex-wife's whorish tendencies).
I was in grad school, working on a novel, and my work just wasn't getting taken. As months went by, and more and more rejections came pouring it, the dejection took its toll. How can you not start doubting yourself?
And here's where my fortune changed.
Thuglit. Mostly because it was such a cool sounding name. And they gave you a free tee shirt. But also it was the new "it" crimezine. Kept sending stuff, kept getting a no. Then I recalled something Lynne Barrett, my thesis advisor, once said about literary magazines: "Everyone wants to be in literary magazines, but no one wants to read them." How nuts is that? I was also editor of the university's literary magazine, Gulf Stream. I received work all day, from guys and gals just like I, wanting to be published, and who clearly never read my magazine. Something clicked. I picked up (actually logged online to) Thuglit. I read three stories. Then I wrote one. That story was taken. Since that little experiment my acceptance rate has gone up from less than 5% to well over 50%. And those are just arbitrary stats because I honestly can't remember the last time I had a short story rejected.
And the really funny part? All those stories that got rejected originally? Literary magazines now ask me to publish them. The same goddamn ones. Part of that is having a few books out, and being a recognized member of the community, having a little bit of a name. A good chunk of it, however, is simply knowing how to play the game. Writing, like life, is a game. You have to know the rules.
When you read a particular literary magazine to see what a specific editor likes, you are not selling out. You're playing smart. And you are not going to change who you are. You simply enter into a dialogue, a give and take. Maybe you read a story where there's a serial killer clown and you're like, "Oh, man, how cheesy!" only to remember you have a story with a clown serial killer. In writing, you learn as much by learning what not to do. We do not write in a vacuum. Every editor has his or her own prejudices. That is human nature. Learning those preferences is just another tool in the arsenal. And it will only improve your chances.