For all you aspiring writers out there, I’d like to share with you a story of rejection.
I once published in an online journal. Several months ago, I tried to look up the piece and discovered that it had been taken down. For some reason, mine no longer existed or was referenced on their website. I took this to be just an odd mistake but wondered if there was something else going on.
This spring, I submitted another essay. It was an edited and developed version of a paper I presented at an academic conference on the relationship between eros and friendship in John 15 and the Nicomachean Ethics. Roughly fifteen minutes after submitting, I received a rejection, suggesting to me that they hadn’t even read the essay. I was incensed. I had another essay, something written during my graduate studies and since developed, on paradise and marriage in Homer and Catholic teaching. I submitted that essay, and received a rejection the next day.
I decided to push on. The next week, I finished editing an essay on the relationship between homosexuality, hedonism, asceticism, and the transformation of desire, drawing on Sarah Coakley and Alasdair MacIntyre. Another quick rejection.
I took a break from submitting to that publication. I was drawn to other writing projects. Life got busy, but I kept writing. Several days ago, I had finished an essay (admittedly, not my best but also not bad) on the various ways one might interpret McCarrick’s abuses, in light of the McCarrick report and contemporary findings in psychology. The rejection came about half an hour later. It included the note, “Right now your writing does not meet our standards compared to the other pieces we publish. Plus, flooding our system (or anyone else’s for that matter) with submissions is not an endearing method.”
The note felt crushing at first. I love the publication. I’ve struggled with imposter syndrome at times as someone who tries to do serious writing without having gotten a PhD or working currently in academia. It felt like less of a rejection of the pieces and more of a rejection of me and my capabilities as a writer and thinker.
Then I took a step back. For one thing, it seemed clear to me that at least some of my submissions hadn’t actually been read. Some of those submissions had been previously reviewed by academics I highly respected and who found the essays insightful, serious, and valuable. I knew those academics had the relevant expertise to more accurately evaluate the intellectual and disciplinary quality of the writing than the publication’s editor.
And then there was the ideological question that I wanted to explore. After searching the site, I discovered that in its years of operation, the publication has never published the word “gay.” I was unable to find any pieces on homosexuality. (There has been one piece on same-sex civil unions.) To my knowledge, I am the only openly LGBTQ+ person who has ever been published by them (and again, my piece no longer exists on their website). What all this amounts to is the suggestion that I should probably just carry on.
Rejections can be about many things. They can be about the quality of your piece. (It’s certainly possible that that editor is right about the quality of those submissions.) Or they can be about its relevance. They can be about the editor’s ideological inclinations, whether explicit or not. They can be about the personal interests of the editor at the time. (One thing I appreciate about the literary world is that they are very open, and apologetic, about this unavoidable fact when they reject pieces.) Or they can be about an editor that’s just frustrated that you keep submitting things.
Keep in mind that editors are often underpaid and overworked. They have to deal with a lot of crazy people and the pressures of institutional and ideological politics. Try to be gracious with them, especially if, like me, you have a good job, good family, good friends, and a generally good life.
So don’t let one editor hold the power to determine whether what you are writing is valuable, serious, or of sufficient quality. I know of very few accomplished writers that didn’t, at one point or another, face constant rejection. Keep writing. Keep submitting. If one publication won’t take you, find another. That’s what I plan to do.
is a writer, speaker, attorney, and business professional living in the Twin Cities. He received his B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and his J.D. and M.A. in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas. His writings focus primarily on Catholicism, homoeros, and law, and have appeared in Logos, Commonweal Magazine, Church Life Journal, and other publications. In his free time, he enjoys hosting seminars, creative writing workshops, and dinner parties.