Intern Post, John Chakravarty: Small Failures

The submission process must be the most impersonal part of a writer’s career. The author has just spent days, weeks, or even years writing, editing, and workshopping the best piece of fiction they can muster. But without an audience, it’s just a piece of journal writing. Professors and other writing professionals will encourage the author to “get your work out there” and “you need a few rejection letters under the belt.” So this piece of written human soul gets crammed into an email and whisked away to a faceless submission editor.

Finding places to submit work to is the first part of this impersonal interaction. The best way to find a literary journal that will like your work is to read journals that have similar work to yours. The problem is, that the pieces that they are publishing may either A. be much stronger and more practiced or B. not anything like what you write, in terms of style. SmokeLong Quarterly is my favorite online journal, but my written work has not measured up to their level so far. I find this uneven balance when I am submitting work where I’ve either spent a lot of time reading a journal and realized that there’s no way my work stacks up. Or I’ve never heard of the journal, and think they must just be publishing anyone, why would I bother. Scanning through lists and call for submissions can feel like job hunting with incredibly vague parameters.

However, the worst part of this process is the rejection email. There’s never a right time or place to receive the email and it’s never quite worded the right way. A rejection email that sticks out in my mind said, “while we loved the absurdist normalcy of the piece, we regret to inform you…” I appreciated the time it took for them to write something personal about my work, but it left me questioning what that meant. I spent the next few days workshopping the email, trying to get a positive deconstruction of the narrative and what the character was trying to say to me. Needless to say, I didn’t get anywhere.

Being on the other side of this as a submission editor had a similar disconnect. We had almost three hundred fiction submissions. Three hundred is a relatively low number for some journals, but it set a record for Superstition Review. I found myself stuck looking at a neverending list of titles from strangers. They show up like an excel database, or some customer list. It’s very different than sitting across from someone in a workshop.

Writing the rejection email I ran into a similar conflict. Based on the rejections I’ve gotten the email should do the following; thank the writer for submitting, tell them no, and ask them to read the journal anyway. Which always feels inauthentic when on the receiving end.

The value in submitting can’t come from personal connection. Instead, it has to come from a place of personal growth. Only by submitting (and being on the other end) can an author learn to make mistakes and to take risks. Keeping a piece of writing private keeps it safe and for some people that’s enough. Exposing a piece of writing forces the author to grow their craft and skill by releasing that inhibition. Social media has exposed the extremes of our society. Most often, we only see something that is of extreme success or extreme failure. Small failures have to happen for any professional to grow. For writers that comes in the form of rejection letters. These are only small failures, and they must be overcome in order to grow. I hope that Superstition Review gets six hundred fiction submissions next semester and that many more small failures get to occur.

Former SR Intern Brooke Stevenson Speaks Out about the “Real World”

I have an English degree, and I’m a proposal coordinator for an engineering company. How in the (real) world did that happen?

When I told people I was majoring in English, the response was usually, “Are you going to teach, or work at Starbucks?” I have neither the patience nor tact for teaching. I’d scream every time a student wrote about a dream or heaven forbid, a vampire. Maybe I just really hate vampires. Maybe I wanted to defy every person who ever said an English degree was only for future baristas of America.

I graduated college three years ago. I worked on the first Superstition Review issue with Trish and she directed my committee for my Barrett Honors College thesis. My premise? I don’t really know anything! That principle hasn’t really changed to this day. It sounds pessimistic at first, but it’s actually become a mantra for personal success.

I’m 25, and smack dab in the middle of an age group known for being brash. So, I feel that I can grow as a person by acknowledging and honing the few things I do know (in comparison to all the things there are to know in the world). Basically, I hope to avoid the pitfall of becoming another foolhardy, unemployed, 20-something of the Millennial generation.

I had five editorial internships in college and still didn’t have a “real world” lead when I graduated. I thought I wanted to go into publishing, but the job well was dry at the time. My internship mentor suggested marketing positions; sometimes their descriptions are similar to editorial work. This was some of the best advice I ever received, and I found several comparable options.

The one that stuck out to me was this engineering firm. I looked at their website and saw a company that designs roads, builds museums, encourages sustainable energy options, keeps water and shorelines clean. I wanted to be a part of this. I walked into the interview and said, “I don’t know anything about engineering. But, I do know words, and I know them well.” I proved it with an editing test, and got the job.

My title is “proposal coordinator.” I write, edit, and produce proposals detailing my company’s qualifications for completing a project. From designing wastewater treatment plants in California to expanding ports in Florida, I create books aiming to persuade clients that we are the right team for the job. I work with a project manager to develop the text and design an interesting, effective document. The engineers provide the technical know-how, and I provide the understanding of English and a creative eye. It’s the perfect symbiotic relationship for two people who know their respective topics. The projects range from a few thousand dollars to a few million, and help us intelligently plan for using/replenishing Earth’s resources well into the future.

I still freelance for one of my mentors, writing pieces for local magazines. It’s a nice creative outlet when the technical talk starts to take over and I need a break. I’ve approached the “real world” a lot like I approached college. Humility and embracing the big picture that there is always room to grow has served me unbelievably well, and I’m grateful for every day that I’m gainfully employed at my job. Plus, there aren’t any vampires.