So, a strange thing happened on the way to racking up 50 rejection letters. That’s right. For those of you wondering, I have submitted my various stories and novellas to magazines 50 times and 50 times, those stories have ended up being rejected (according to my Duotrope submission tracker). But here’s the funny thing that happened. I only noticed it after I got the 51st rejection. That 50th rejection passed without notice. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t check my email every 12 hours and sullenly delete the rejection email. The 50th rejection was just one of many, one that I didn’t even notice. So, what I have I learned from this trail of rejection? Here are a few key takeaways:
The First Cut Is the Deepest
My first rejection? Yep, that hurt. Ain’t gonna lie. It was a rejection from Lightspeed for my story “The Hatchlings.” It was a very professional rejection letter and very prompt (only took them 1 day to turn it around). And from a top magazine that accepts very few stories. In other words, I had no reason to think I would have one of my stories accepted right off the bat. But, man it stung. My writing…Out there, being judged by someone else…And they rejected me. Me! The gall! I calmed down a bit, and that same day I sent out the story to the next magazine. Eventually, I got the second rejection and that hurt too, but not as much. The third hurt even less. And one day, it found the right editor and got published in Fiction Vortex. The thrill of getting a piece accepted washed away all the bad feeling of those previous rejections.
Somewhere Around about Rejection 25—You don’t really notice it any more.
So, I kept writing, kept editing and kept sending in stories. The rejections piled up. You get your 5th, 10th and 25th rejection. And by about that time…You get to this point where you open your email, see the rejection slip and think “Hmm, that sucks.” It’s more like a mosquito sting than an amputation. I might let the story sit for a day or two, but more likely I’ll find another market that same day and send it on its way.
I can’t even recall my 25th rejection, whatever it was, it didn’t have much of an impact on me.
It Helps Realizing How Much Other Writers Get Rejected
Somehow, there’s this myth that the great writers never have to deal with much rejection. While there are exceptions to this rule, there is a story about Stephen King that is great. It goes that he received so many rejection slips that a nail could no longer hold them all on the wall and it had to be replaced with a spike. I have also covered previously, Lou Antonelli’s assertion that you should have about 25 rejections per story before you decide to give up on the piece.
Yes, other professional writers who have published way more than you face rejection again and again. That’s the reality of the profession. You’re going to have to deal with it.
You Do Want to Follow Those Submission Guidelines—Exactly
It’s true that magazines will reject you outright if you do not follow their submission guidelines. I know. It’s happened to me. They usually say something: “check submission guidelines.”
Don’t do this to yourself, it’s not a good feeling. It’s not even giving the story you slaved over a chance. It’s being rejected simply because it’s the wrong computer file, wrong font or is clearly the wrong subject matter.
Don’t waste your time, and the magazine’s, by sending in something out of guidelines. Don’t do it. Take it from someone who has—it’s not a good feeling.
You Just Have to Keep Going—Whatever Your Response May Be
Epictetus said that it is often not events we experience that overwhelm us, but our response to them (or something to that effect). If one dwells repeatedly on a past traumatic event replaying it constantly over and over, it’s likely to drag you down. But if you’re able to somehow take that event for what it was, compartmentalize it to a degree, you’re better positioned to view it realistically for what it was worth and move on. (A gross oversimplification, I know, but bare with me a minute).
I’m not one to give you some trite pablum like: “Write like you’ve never been rejected.” People respond differently to rejection. For some, it makes them angry. And anger has produced some great writing. That whole feeling of “I’m going to show them this time,” a la Kingsley Amis. Others might just shrug it off—mostly—though it lingers in the mind. The key is, whatever your reaction: keep going.
It can be compared to jumping in a cold pool. You don’t want to do it at first, you know it’s going to be uncomfortable. But you have to jump in. And when you do, yeah, it IS uncomfortable at first (those first rejections sting), but with each passing minute it’s less and less uncomfortable and after awhile you don’t even notice the cold…That is until you get hypothermia and go into shock…At which point this metaphor hopelessly breaks down.
Anyway, here’s to rejection 52, 53 and 100. As long as I keep getting rejected, I figure it proves I’m still writing, I’m still trying. And even if I fail, I hope to “fail better” each time. In the end, that’s all any writer or artist can hope for. I hope that makes Epictetus smile—wherever he is.
And 1,000 Twitter followers later…
In other news, I’ve got 1,000 followers on Twitter now, which is kind of a cool milestone. It’s actually a pretty useful tool for finding and connecting with other writers and artists. If you want to follow my daily writing activities, the books I’m reading, the thoughts I’m having, etc.—it’s a great way to track them. You can find my handle here. If you’re a human (who doesn’t spam others constantly), there’s a good chance I’ll even follow back.
See you next time,