We’ve all suffered rejection and disappointment. Perhaps that job you coveted or someone you loved who might have even led you on before dropping you. It hurts. But you move on. And it does get better. Eventually. It does, trust me. It helps by starting with knowing that we don’t always get what we want, but we always get what we need…
Being a published writer involves accepting rejection. It’s part of the job description. Think of rejection as an integral part of your road to success. If you have never been rejected then you haven’t really tried, have you? There are several ways that you can gain a good perspective on your rejection letters and even make them work to your advantage.
Adopt a Healthy Perspective
One way is to adopt a realistic, objective and healthy viewpoint on your story’s rejection:
- View selling manuscripts as a “cold call” business: When you view it this way, you will treat it that way. Until you establish a relationship with your market, selling becomes a numbers game. The more you send, the more likely you are to get a hit. It’s all in the statistics.
- View rejections as an opportunity. Rejections can provide you with the opportunity to learn and re-evaluate, usually of appropriate market and publisher subjectivity rather than writing quality.
- View rejections as the beginning of a relationship. Not all rejections are final; in fact most aren’t. Most rejections by a publisher or magazine editor stem from story redundancy, lack of space or editorial requirements. Many rejection letters will reflect this (e.g., “Thanks, but this isn’t a match for us…do try us again.” They mean it. It just means that the story wasn’t right—they may have run something too similar to it already or it didn’t fit with the other pieces or theme or whatever.)
- View rejections as part of your success journey. Rejection is a given in the writing business and a necessary aspect of your journey as a soon-to-be and published writer (you don’t stop getting rejections once you’re published!). Often a story may be considered “before its time”; too different, a risk and is therefore harder to place. This is often why a book that was rejected so many times becomes a great hit once it is published. The very quality that made it hard for a publisher to accept made it a success with the readership: its refreshing yet topical originality.
- View rejections as your first step to success. Take heart in the fact that you reached this stage in your writing career. Getting that first rejection in the mail is a great affirmation that you have taken that first significant step to becoming a serious writer. It means that you’ve completed a work and had the courage to enter it into the world.
Acceptance begins with rejection.
Make Rejection Work for You
You can maintain a more objective view on your rejections by keeping an objective view on your submissions. This can be accomplished by submitting a lot and submitting often. Treat your submissions—and rejections—like a business. The best way to do this is to submit lots of stories and to keep submitting them. The critical part of this process is to always have a contingency ready for each story submitted: once a story is returned, you have a place to send it already. Most professional writers will recommend that you do not revise the story before resending it out. This is because many rejections occur not on account of poor writing, but because of poor or unlucky marketing.
Remember that You’re in Great Company
Virtually every writer of merit who has published has had their work rejected several times. Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit was turned down so many times that she initially self-published. Irving Stone’s Lust for Life was rejected sixteen times before a publisher finally picked it up and sold about twenty-five million copies. Not bad for a story that was passed off as “a long, dull novel about an artist.” Jonathan Livingston Seagull was turned down twenty-three times and Dune twenty-one times. There are a bazillion examples; I’ve just picked a few. Go check J.K. Rowling’s track record for rejections before getting her Harry Potter published…
I’ll be talking more about how to read a rejection letter, how to recognize their sub-text messages, and how to make the most out of them in Part 2, the evolution of rejection letters.
This article is an excerpt from my fiction writing guidebook The Fiction Writer: Get Published, Write Now! (Starfire, 2009).
Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.