Way back when I first started sending in stories to see if I could get them published, I saw an off-handed comment somewhere on the Internet that went something like this: "Famous Author X thinks it's weak to always submit to places with a high chance of publication. You should go for the big game." That probably slowed me down to getting my first publication considerably. I really wasted a lot of time only sending in to magazines like The Atlantic. Eventually, I adjusted, and soon my fourth story will be published, followed soon after by the promised book of short stories from Washington Writers' Publishing House.
Still, I can't get over the lure of the big boys. How great would it be to get published by Glimmer Train or New England Review or Prairie Schooner? Wouldn't it bring instant gravitas when I submit further work in the future? Wouldn't it give me a leg up searching for agents for my novel?
I wrote a couple of stories earlier this year that I regard as the best I've done yet. I decided to try to shoot the moon and go for some of the big boys I've been avoiding. The rejections are just starting to come in now. You'd think it would be easier to take a rejection from a top-tier journal, but it's not. I can't help but getting excited when there's a response from a publisher that could really bring a breakthrough. That means the let-down hits me a little bit harder. If you get a rejection from a smaller press, there's always the chance your story was actually good but they're just too overworked to notice. With the top presses, a rejection feels more authoritative.
Also, one journal has a mean form rejection letter. Instead of the many formulas for "we're not saying it's bad, only that we're not publishing it," this one said "Unfortunately, it's not for us." That sounds like something I'd say about jello with pineapple in it.
I've read a lot of writers use the strategy of going big then going small. Try a story out with the big guys, then go for something more approachable. If that fails, maybe rework the story or put it away for a while. That makes sense, but it's a frustratingly slow way to do business. Getting published is like playing a really tough boss level of a video game, only there is a three-to-six month lag between trying something and seeing whether it worked or you have to hit re-start.
I'm happy getting published by smaller presses. It's really enough that anyone reads something I've written and likes it. But 2017 was supposed to be a year that gave me some clarity on how much effort to keep putting into writing, and for how much longer. It started off with a bang, a quick acceptance and then the big news of the book. I really wanted a second big breakthrough with a major journal, but now that very effort has got me back to feeling like I'm grinding in vain. With odds this big, it really feels like I'm waiting for that unreliable girl to show up for our date, and she's an hour and half late, and everyone in the restaurant is starting to feel sorry for me.