The Black Hole of Publishing

Is it really, though? I mean the black hole? Just asking for a friend.

Okay, so ’tis the season of finishing my MFA program in creative writing converging with the submissions opening of literary journals and independent presses. I’ve hustled to get my individual essay out there, and out of 206 submissions sent out just this calendar year (yes, I keep a detailed spreadsheet, which I highly recommend!) I got about seven acceptances. So, of course, every time I get a “congratulations!” on my publication success, I feel a need to add a verbal addendum. Those acceptances were fought for, and surely didn’t just roll in.

Now with eight of my manuscript’s essays getting picked up for publication with journals (again, I fought tooth and nail for those), and after making some revisions after my thesis defense this past July, I felt it might be worth sending the whole damn thing out into the black hole.

Many publishers preempt their silence with a note–“we receive so many submissions that we will only reach out if we are interested…” Frustrating for the writer, for sure, yet I get it. Remember that I’ve sent out 206 smaller essays just this year? Imagine if I had to read all of them and respond to each one. Now imagine that each 3000 word essay was actually a 66,000 word book. Yeah, I get it.

Yet, it doesn’t help the idea that publishing is like sending my babies into a black hole. Certainly there are days I get so frustrated with my six-year-old that I’d love to send her into a black hole (temporarily, of course), or perhaps, better yet, I can go into this black hole for a little R&R. But my written babies, alone into the darkness, with all my doubt wondering if I produced the very best I could have is scary. At least with my human child, I know I did all I could with my genes and good looks.

In addition to the independent press black hole, let’s add in the literary agent hole. I imagine they are all sitting on whatever is on the other side of a black hole, sipping coffee, chatting over manuscripts, dripping brown liquid into their keyboards as they laugh at just how bad most cover letters, queries, synopses, marketing plans, and manuscripts really are. That image gives me a little hope that with my intense need to research extensively before submitting any work, with my reading books on publishing (I recommend Courtney Maum’s “Before and After the Book Deal: A Writer’s Guide to Finishing, Publishing, Promoting, and Surviving Your First Book“–I get zero kickbacks from this endorsement, BTW, I just really enjoyed this book and her humor), and my obsessiveness to rid all of my written documents of errors that I might just cling to the edge of the black hole before falling in. Maybe I keep the agents’ coffee safely in the mug.

So, by now, you likely have realized that I AM the friend that was wondering about this black hole, clever reader. But don’t worry, I haven’t fallen in (yet) and plan to save my written babies from as much crushing rejection as possible. Sometimes, though, (actually, often), it just will happen. And such is the life of a writer. At least rejection, even silent rejection, reminds me that while I may never hear back from everyone, people’s eyes are getting on my work. And that must count for something.

I’ll let all my friends know.