Rejection. All I have to do is write the word and everyone looks at their shoes and says “Yeah.” And don’t believe anyone who says “Rejection never bothers me.” You really shouldn’t. Those people are psychopaths. They’ll wait ’till you leave your house, burgle it, then come back later and say, “Being robbed sucks, don’t it?”
But I digress.
If you’re a writer, rejection is a constant. It’s a great, wide world of no out there, and once you’ve been at the game for a while, you learn that being blown off comes in many colors, styles, and flavors.
There’s the non-rejection rejection, where you submit your work and just never hear from the editor.
There’s the short slip or brief email message, addressed to no one in particular, saying that your work doesn’t meet their needs at this time.
There’s the checklist (pictured above), which proves that they cared enough to fill out a brief form. (Unless they do that for everybody, in which case it’s not so great.)
The vaguely encouraging form letter that praises the talent of the recipient. But still…no.
The encouraging rejection that invites the writer to submit again.
The letter that isn’t a rejection exactly, but requests a revision of the story… no promises, but maybe, if it’s good…
If you’ve been at this a while you’ve seen them all, but most of what you’ve seen looks like the first two in the list. That’s the way it is and will always be. The number of writers will always exceed by great lengths the number of decent publishing outlets. So unless you’re content with sticking your work up as a Kindle Single and hoping for the best, you have to deal with the slips.
So, how do you deal?
(First, go here to see what not to do.)
—Submit with due pessimism. It is overwhelmingly likely that your wonderful story/novel/poem is destined for the publisher’s circular file. It is also overwhelmingly likely that you’ll never get a reason why, and it’s also overwhelmingly likely that any reason proffered wouldn’t satisfy you. Accept it. Accept that it may have little to do with the quality of your work. When you submit, record your submission and get on with other projects. (You do have some, right?) From now on, where that old story is concerned, you’re just a goalie. When publishers kick it at you, you kick it back into play. That’s all. Sitting at home, imagining what you’ll buy with the $1,500 you’ll get from Glimmer Train or what you’ll wear to the Pen/Hemingway ceremony will turn you into this guy:
And we know what happened to him:
Well…that and he grew up to be Jean Shepherd.
—Stew in your own juice, for 10 minutes. I say this because telling you not to do it will just make things worse. So give yourself 10 minutes to feel crappy about your career and your life, and to look at those brochures your mom sent you about degree programs in accounting. When the 10 minutes are up, kick the story back into play.
—Use your rejections. If a magazine is always giving you the first two kinds of rejections, maybe you’re just not right for them. Maybe your work isn’t to the editor’s taste. Go back, read the magazine, and see if your interests as a writer coincide with theirs as a publisher. If your work tends toward dark, cruel satire, Glimmer Train may not be your best target. (Not that they’re a bad magazine. They’re very good. That’s just not what they’re known for.)
—Seek weakness. Lions don’t just attack anything on the savannah. They like something that limps or looks sick. The evidence of a magazine that’s limping or sick is the rejections listed further down. The magazine that vaguely praised you with the last rejection may be worth some further study for a future submission. The one that invited you to submit again should be inundated. They get every appropriate piece you write for the next year, and your cover letter should mention the last story: e.g. “You had at least some affinity for the piece I submitted in November, so I thought you might like to see this one.” It may not work, but then again, lions don’t always get even the limping zebras. We’re talking odds improvement here.
My first published story was with a magazine called Pulphouse. (It’s gone now, but you can google it for back issues. My story was in Issue #19, the penultimate one known informally as “The Dangerous Issue”) For about a year prior to placing my story, “The Knife Man” in it, I’d been getting personal rejections from Pulphouse‘s editor that always invited another submission. Afterwards, I placed another story with them, and if the recession of the early ’90s hadn’t crippled the magazine, my writing career might have taken a very different course…
But I digress.
—When nothing else cheers you up, think of actors. Actors exist primarily to make all other artists feel better about their lots in life. True, actors at the top of their profession can make hillions of jillions of dollars, but most actors spend the bulk of their lives unemployed, getting rejection after rejection, often for things they can’t control. “You’re perfect for this part: except that you’re an inch too tall, an inch too short, a shade too dark, a little too young, a little too old, a little too well-known, a little too unknown, a little too ethnic, a little too whitebread, a little too handsome, a little too pretty, a little too ugly, a little too fat, a little too thin.” Nobody ever made a writer lose ten pounds to write a book (not even for a diet book), or to put on 15 pounds of muscle look better in the costume. And writer’s only have deal with their own work sucking. Actors, when they’re employed at all, usually have to endure being the public faces of other people’s sucky work. (Imagine being Hayden Christensen and having people come up to you to say “I don’t like sand” and laugh for the rest of your life. He wasn’t very good in the part of Anakin Skywalker, but fair’s fair: Olivier couldn’t have made Anakin Skywalker’s dialog work.)
So make friends with a few actors. They’ll make you feel better.
Back to work.