Cover of Subs and Chill with Brittany Ackerman

Subs and Chill
with Brittany Ackerman

Subs and Chill is a bi-weekly conversation with writers on rejections, the submission process, and all the moments in between, before hitting submit. This week, Brittany Ackerman, author of The Brittanys, chats about a rejected piece that ended up in her book, her proud publishing moments, being a YOLO submitter, and using rejection as fuel.

“I think if writers can view publishing in literary magazines as little joys that continue to motivate us to keep writing, then it's a good thing. But when we see it as everything and put all our worth and value into the sense of validation that comes from publishing, we're sort of doomed. Publishing isn't everything, but writing is.”

Do you remember your first rejection? How did you feel about it? Looking back, is there anything you learned from that experience?

I started submitting work in 2013, and upon looking at my Submittable account from way back then, it appears my first rejection happened on March 24th of that year for an essay that ended up in my first book, my memoir The Perpetual Motion Machine. I have pages and pages of submissions on that account now, and I say this with all honesty--the rejection no longer stings. I hadn't expected to get the first thing I ever sent out published, but I remember being bummed about it, feeling like if I could just getone thing published, I'd be "okay." But even after I did get published, that feeling only grew and grew, and the notion became, Now, if I can just keep this going, I'll be okay!! And that's just not true. Publishing is a great thing when it happens, but if it doesn't happen, that's fine too. It doesn't mean you aren't a real writer, or that your work sucks, or that you suck. It just means it wasn't right at that moment. And hey, that first essay that got rejected never ended up in a literary magazine, but it ended up in a book, so take that!

What was the first piece you got published? How did you celebrate? Also, what does your process look like for researching where to submit your work? (do you browse or just submit to anyone with subs open regardless?)

A few months after that first rejection, I got a poem published in a literary journal called, 3 Elements Review. I found the journal on New Pages while I was taking a poetry workshop in my graduate school program. The magazine interested me because the premise was that each issue had three elements that had to be used in the piece in some way whether it be literal or metaphorical. The elements for this issue were: helix, cower, hammock, and I was really proud to have the poem published. It was exciting and a "first," but I also knew that this was just the beginning. I used to use New Pages all the time, as well as Submittable's newsletter to find out about places that were accepting submissions. More presently, I tend to look at where my writing friends and icons are published and submit my work there. I try to stay keen on what places have contests and I keep track of everything on a digital sticky note on my desktop. I also still use Submittable to track submissions-- it's super user friendly and keeps everything organized. More recently, I've been loving Chill Subs (shameless plug!) for its vibe, yes, and for its ease in terms of navigation. I love being able to filter what I'm looking for; especially helpful when I've just written something specific and want to find the right home to place it.

For a short piece like a story or a poem, how many places do you submit it to at a time? Do you keep track of your submissions? What does your editorial process look like before you hit submit?

It really depends. If it's a story/essay I'm submitting to a contest, I'll sometimes just submit it there. But if it's for an open submission season, I'll usually send a piece to at least five places and then wait to hear back. A few times I've had the lovely problem of having a piece accepted two places, but I try to make sure to withdraw a piece once it's accepted elsewhere. As mentioned above, I still use Submittable for my tracking and organization, and I highly recommend it. It's free! They have a great Twitter too and newsletter where they keep writers updated regularly on contests and open submission periods. As far as editing, I usually send fresh drafts to a few writer pals (Kailey included :* ) and get general feedback and line edits, share work in Google docs or Microsoft Word, and then will take those comments and implement them in another round of revision, sometimes two more rounds, and then press submit.

What type of writer are you when it comes to submitting your work: Do you hold on to a piece for a long time and then have to give yourself a pep talk (if yes, please share) or do you subscribe to a more fuck it hit submit right away approach? If your piece gets rejected, are you one to power through and move on to the next publication or do you sit with it a little longer and try to figure out where you might’ve gone wrong?

Definitely a more YOLO type of submitter. If I'm writing something, I want to share it, and my impulse is to send it out sooner than later. If it gets rejected more than five times over a period of three-six months, I withdraw it completely and work on it again. Sometimes I'll send it back to my writer friends and see if they have any insight on how to make the piece stronger, and they usually do. I'm so grateful for the eyes of other writers on my work. Although writing is so solitary, editing and revision can be collaborative. And that's why I think sharing/submitting the work is so important. We should be proud of the hard efforts that go into every single piece we write.

Is there a rejection letter that stands out in your mind? Something particularly harsh or intense? Or maybe even comical?

I recently got a rejection that was so short, something along the lines of "We were impressed by your work, but the piece isn't right for us now. We hope you feel encouraged by our note to submit again." I was confused what part I was supposed to be encouraged by, as the "impressed by your work" seemed a very blanket sort of rejection to me. But the thing that always stings most for me is when I am runner-up in a contest-- so close to winning yet so far away! I know it's an honor to even place in a literary contest, and sometimes you still get published in another issue the magazine does or even some cash, but it's always hard for me to know I was so close! I also once had an essay go back and forth with editors at a magazine for almost a year (seriously!) and then they ended up not taking it. THAT was frustrating. But then I submitted it elsewhere and it got picked up right away, so ha!

What publication or magazine would you love to see yourself in someday? Or, if you have already been published in your dream pub, tell us about the experience.

Oh gosh, there are so many. And there are so many great mags that pop up all the time! My most proudest publications have been (in no particular order): The Account (who just nominated my essay "Going to the Hospital" for a Pushcart Prize!!), Lit Hub, No Tokens, Cosmonauts Ave, A3 Press (who published my chapbook "Some Kind of Party"), tele-art mag, On the Seawall, among others. My dream pubs would have to be: Paris Review, Granta, Guernica, The Yale Review, and there are too many more to name.

Is being published all it’s cracked up to be? What is your advice for writers who are working on getting published?

Yes and no. I think if writers can view publishing in literary magazines as little joys that continue to motivate us to keep writing, then it's a good thing. But when we see it as everything and put all our worth and value into the sense of validation that comes from publishing, we're sort of doomed. Publishing isn't everything, but writing is. Celebrate the wins, but also celebrate the fact that you wrote another day, shared another piece with a fellow writer, submitted something you are proud of. Take the rejections not too seriously, as they truly are nothing personal. Use it as fuel to keep going. And do keep going. My biggest piece of advice to writers at any stage is just to keep writing. Get your butt in the chair and do the work; no one else will do it for you.

Okay, you are really hungry and in front of a sub shop. What is your all time favorite sandwich order?

First of all, a sandwich shop would make for a great setting in a story. But to answer the question: Italian sub all the way. I love a classic Italian sub-- salami, pepperoni, capocollo, provolone, a crunchy lettuce, banana peppers or sweet peppers, house dressing, salt, pepper, oil, vinegar, and a perfectly fluffy bread. If a place has fresh mozzarella, I'll add that in there too.