ZZ Packer Says Expect Failure

As I begin to consider sending a few of my short stories off to various journals, I found this bit of advice from ZZ Packer:

WORDSMITTEN: What advice would you give to unpublished short-fiction writers today?

ZZ PACKER: My first bit of advice would be to expect failure. I know that sounds awful, but plan for success and expect failure. I remember how surprised I was to hear other writer friends of mine just so dejected after getting rejection letters. It came as a complete surprise to me that they would be so upset. I was like, “Dude, these people could have Lorrie Moore writing for them, or Stuart Dybek or John Edgar Wideman, or all these other great writers, so why are you so surprised (and upset) that your stuff didn’t get taken?” I never expected anything to get taken, so when stories did start getting taken, I was always pleasantly surprised.

I also think you have to cultivate a healthy relationship with the rejection letter. I counted on getting rejection letters, so even though my goal was always first and foremost to write a good story and get it published, I know that more likely than not, you’ll get rejected. So what you have to do is set up a secondary and tertiary goals for those inevitable rejection letters. My secondary goal was always for the rejection letter to include written comments from the editor. That way, you increase the likelihood that the story will be read to the end, but most importantly, you get feedback from an impartial source who also happens to be an editor (or associate editor, or reader). That feedback is of vital importance, because they’re telling you what, in their estimation, went wrong.

1) So I always tell my students to write a cover letter that: Is appropriate to the magazine/journal, showing that you’ve actually read the publication and know what kind of fiction it’s likely to accept. (i.e., you should know that Zzyzzva is a journal of West Coast writing, so a story that takes place in Minnesota shows that you simply haven’t done your homework). And you should mention why you respect the publication. (If you don’t, don’t submit to it. It’s that simple).

2) Explains that you’re a young or fledgling writer, and because you respect the publication so much, you’d love it if, in the case that they don’t publish the story, they could give you any comments, suggestions or feedback to help your writing in general or that story in particular.

I’ve found that most editors are kind enough to comply. After all, they care about stories, they love stories, and they love it when people get it right. If they can help, and if it won’t take too much time out of their day, they’ll probably read to the end so they can scribble a few comments and suggestions. Editors have told me things that my fellow writers simply were too kind, or too untutored, to tell me.

(Read more . . .)

Happy reading, y’all.

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3 thoughts on “ZZ Packer Says Expect Failure

  1. Great site, glad I found it. I just finished Erasure and am enamored with Everett, as I am with Junot Diaz and Sherman Alexie. I can’t wait to read Victor LaValle. I love the provocative tone of all of these writers.

    Like

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