Ok, so maybe not always. But, consider this. Just this morning, I received my latest acceptance for an essay I wrote over a year ago. I brought that essay to my MFA workshop, peers and my faculty instructor all took their time reading through it, offering words of encouragement and suggestions for revision. I took it home and worked on it, playing with form, order of material, the footnotes that I thought added a depth to the essay that I just could not achieve otherwise. Then I set out to get it published. I sent it out to a few places, hopeful that the essay I felt was most ready to be published from the collection I had accrued would be accepted. One journal, a publication that had loved a different essay the year before but just didn’t have a space to fit it into their upcoming publication, had asked me to send more work. So I sent them this essay. Again, I heard from the nonfiction editor. Again, they loved it. They loved the play with lyrical parts between more traditional prose, the way the form mirrored the content. They loved the depth of the piece and the emotionality of it. But. (the dreaded “but”!). They didn’t have a place for it (again!).
I was happy to have received an email from the nonfiction editor herself swooning over my piece. I was crushed that she didn’t accept it for publication.
I continued with other journals. I saved this essay for places I considered “better”–only in that they were harder to get an acceptance (say 15% acceptance rate versus 3%). I had just that much confidence in it. I sent it out over and over again.
It was rejected twenty-eight more times.
And then came the Stonecoast Review. The nonfiction editor emailed, starting with “we loved ‘Fusion’ and would like to publish it….but there are a few revisions we’d like to see if you are willing. You can resubmit and we’ll reconsider it, as publication is not guaranteed…”
The essay details my spinal fusion, done when I was fourteen. It begins with my childhood, the discovery of my scoliosis, and the ultimate fate of my spine. It weaves in medical meditations of what radiation does to a body, and how women in the 1980s differed in perception of the use of ultrasounds versus when I had my pregnancies (and subsequent miscarriages). I did this all braiding in actual text in the form of a crooked spine, and then again straightened. The straightened vertebrae look was the perfect way to end, showing my mother helping me through the painful aftermath of a major surgery.
We’d like to see you cut some of the medical terminology as we feel it takes us out of the emotional parts. Also, the readers and I felt frustrated by the end. We wanted to know how it all ended.
I got to work. I carefully cut out information from medical organizations that explain how we accumulate radiation just by walking around the earth everyday. By doing this, most of the information about my miscarriages no longer made sense, so into the trash they went. I added over a page of a new ending, carefully giving white space before and after my beloved spinal-shaped text to ensure it didn’t lose the gravitas I wanted it to have. Within a couple of hours, I had a new (probably improved!) version. With trepidation, I sent it back to the editor. What if those weren’t the changes they wanted? What if the ending was still unsatisfactory?
I checked my email every hour. I checked Submittable–the submissions manager website that many journals use–to see if my submission changed from “Received” to “In-progress.”
After a year of “declines”, it only took two days.
Submittable reports my essay is now “Accepted.”
Journal number thirty.