My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands. Today’s guest is Laura Maylene Walter. Her debut short story collection, Living Arrangements (BkMk Press, 2011) received a National Gold 2012 Independent Publisher Book Award and a silver ForeWord Book of the Year award. Laura’s writing has appeared in Poets & Writers, The Writer, Inkwell, American Literary Review, Ohioana Quarterly, Flyway, Crab Creek Review, South Dakota Review, Cat Fancy (yes, Cat Fancy) and elsewhere. She was nominated for a 2011 Pushcart Prize and her novel-in-progress was named a runner-up in the 2010 James Jones First Novel Fellowship. Laura lives in Cleveland with her husband and their two cats. She works as a senior editor of a trade magazine and blogs about truth, fiction, and the writing life at lauramaylenewalter.com.
My First Great Expectations
There it was, in the back of the Writer's Digest magazine: a call for submissions for short stories with “religious themes” for teenage readers. It just so happened that I had recently written a story that fit those requirements. Granted, the religious part revolved around the teenage protagonist doubting her own faith instead of celebrating it, and the story featured a melodramatic abortion plotline and a climax involving a broken compact mirror, but still. It seemed like a fit for this particular publication, so why not submit?
The fact that I was only sixteen years old or that I’d never submitted my writing anywhere save student writing contests didn’t discourage me. With some help from the writing-advice books and magazines my mother kept around the house, I put together a cover letter, filled out an SASE, and dropped my story in the mail.
Several weeks later, I received a congratulatory letter and a check for ninety dollars. I was delighted. The story I had originally reeled off for my tenth-grade English class had been accepted by a real, paying publication. I’d been told for years that I had talent, but here was proof in the form of money and a byline. And while I’d heard time and time again that rejection was a big part of the writing life, this acceptance seemed to suggest otherwise. Maybe, I thought, I was the exception to the rejection rule.
What came at last, of course, was a rejection. In addition to pointing out that the voice of my story was “much too adult” for their readership, the editor also dropped the dreaded “please read our publication to see what we publish” line. Just like that, my grand plans to rocket through a writing career without experiencing rejection fell apart. I felt embarrassed that I’d ever thought I was immune to rejection, or that my writing was automatically worthy of being published. Clearly, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I never repeated that first whirlwind acceptance. In fact, I stopped submitting my fiction to non-student publications entirely and instead focused on something more important: becoming a better writer.
But even if it happened too fast and gave me a surge of overconfidence, I’m still grateful for that early acceptance. It taught me not to be afraid to send my work to editors, and that some of them just might connect with it. It taught me to submit professionally, to follow guidelines, and to actually read the publications I wanted to break into. Above all, it showed me that I could become a published writer – even if it didn’t always happen on my own timeline.