Monday, June 16, 2014

The Good Thing About Rejection

A recent comment by a new writer acquaintance made me realize that receiving rejection slips is not the same as it used to be. Indie writers who self-publish without first trying to navigate the publishing jungle as well as new writers who are dealing with editors and agents and their "if you don't hear back from us in xx weeks, consider yourself rejected" policy do not share a common experience with me and other older writers. (Eek, I said it--I am one of the "older writers" now.)
My 1st reject--on a yellow sticky note from 1985
Even though I'd written short stories and poetry since third grade, I didn't begin to write seriously for publication until 1985. I was prolific then, churning out fantasy and science fiction stories as well as a few children's stories as fast as I could write them. I usually let my writer's group read them before sending them out to magazines, but sometimes I was premature in my excitement.
1st reject for my 1st novel
While I was writing dozens and dozens of short stories, I also began researching and writing my first novel, which was (thankfully) never published. Most of my rejects for that one were form letters, but the first rejection was a personally typed letter. Those types of rejections are always encouraging, because busy editors will NOT take the time to give you feedback unless they believe you have some hope of developing into a better and publishable writer.
Over the years I sent multiple stories to the same encouraging editors, hoping one of the stories would "connect." But alas, it took me over 600 rejections (yes, you read that correctly) and 7 years of writing, writing, writing and improving my craft to finally receive an acceptance.
Some editors are brief.
Some have neat handwriting!
This one always wrote real letters! (And did buy one of my fantasy stories.)
This one had a manual typewriter & really skimped on paper.
Form postcard with added note.
Form letter with brief encouraging note.
Sometimes the reason has nothing to do with the writing.
Sometimes they'll suggest other publishing houses.
I now have over 1,000 rejections crammed in an overfull folder (which I used to take to school author visits to show students the "reality" of publishing, but I may have to rethink that). The majority of them are "form letters" with no feedback.
Some form rejects are sort of "personalized"...
And others not--just stuffed in a SASE.
But those several editors who took just a few minutes to share positive feedback with a young and clueless writer encouraged me to keep writing, keep polishing, keep improving, and NOT give up submitting until I found the right editor/magazine/publisher for each publishable project. I now view my seven year journey to publication as my apprenticeship; in a way, these wonderful editors "mentored" me.

For all the acceptances I've had over the last 22 years, there are many more submissions that were never accepted: Some because they weren't good enough to merit publication, but others simply because of bad luck or timing. After all, good ideas happen simultaneously to more than one writer, and whoever "gets there first" is the one published.

And sometimes a well-written project just has to wait until the right time--but that's a subject for another blog. (Anyway, I'd rather wait until I have the signed contract returned and the advance check in hand before I write about that book's long journey. Stay tuned!)


  1. I'm a young? writer (under 40) who is self-publishing most of my work, and I've gotten rejections! And yes, I think they were deserved. Writing has a learning curve, and most of us shouldn't have our first efforts in the market. ;-)

    That said, my very first rejection was a personal one from the head editor, and I wish I'd known at the time exactly how awesome that was.

    Thank you for sharing these!

    1. Yes, Laura, I would definitely call you young. :) I agree with you on the learning curve; hopefully not everyone's curve is as long and steep as mine was. And I suppose none of us realize any "good" from a rejection when we first receive it, but your first one sounds fantastic!

  2. My first was from F&SF; I was so proud to get an actual, personal rejection!
    Almost as exciting as your first PTTOO.
    (Pay To The Order Of)

    1. Doug, I didn't know your first one was from F&SF! I never did sell them a story. And you're definitely right--an actual, personal rejection IS almost as exciting as a PTTOO (love that)!