As any writer knows, the worst way to start the day is by checking your e-mail and getting a form rejection letter fresh from the editor’s outgoing folder. The reactions come in stages: excitement, shock, denial, rage, and finally, acceptance. Much like grief, when you think about it. So when I woke this morning in my usual grumpy haze and checked my latest correspondence, I was quite understandably frustrated with the world and all things therein.
But the stages come quickly, now. I don’t have an approximate count of my rejections, but I know it’s in the double digits, at least. The first ones were like blows to the heart, like the editors had dangled my manuscripts above my head and laughed at the misery they were about to bestow upon me.
Some things changed: first of all, I got used to it. “Well, there’s only a slim percentage of an acceptance, so I’ll be realistic and say that this will more than likely be a rejection.” I started to look at it positively. “At least I’m being productive!” And then I became an editorial assistant at a webzine and got a good idea of what the editors have to contend with. “Yeesh, now I understand.”
(I should add that this webzine, Every Day Fiction, actually gives you feedback on your stories. Check it out if you’re interested in flash fiction!)
I still get depressed, of course—it’s natural to feel that way—but it fades a lot easier these days. And this is how it should be: you should allow a moment of disappointment (feel free to sigh, slump your shoulders, or bellow a quick wail of despair) and then go about your day with plans to resubmit to another magazine as soon as possible.
That’s the ticket: resubmit. Resubmit until your fingers bleed. Some rejections happen because a certain editor simply wasn’t in the mood. Unfair, yes, but that’s the human condition.
“The title of this post is why rejections are necessary. You haven’t mentioned that at all. No wonder you got a rejection—your structure sucks.”
Okay, why rejections are good things: they thicken your skin and teach you how to revise. And, most important, they keep your head at a decent, average size.
There are probably going to be several angry fists at this admission, but the story is important to my argument, so here goes: the very first short story I ever sent out to a magazine came back as an acceptance, even though I was aiming primarily to get my first rejection and thus start what I like to call the “WHY AM I NOT GOOD ENOUGH FOR YOU” train.
I was nineteen, and very stupid. I had wanted to be a writer for about five years by this point, but I had never submitted anything. So I drafted up a story that I liked, targeted specifically for a particular magazine, and submitted with that certain “well done, me” feeling you experience when being especially productive. You can imagine my shock when they said they wanted to publish it.
After this event, my confidence soared like a drunken rocket. “I can get accepted anywhere! I really am a writer! I’m going to be published and write all the books and be happy forever and ever!!!”
The subsequent rejections that flooded my inbox left me baffled. I had been accepted by a magazine—one that actually paid me! Why were these other magazines rejecting good literature?
Because it wasn’t good literature. At all.
This acceptance had done something very bad for my career as a short story submitter. It had told me prematurely that I could expect great things…under the right circumstances. Because of this, it took me about a year or more to realize that I was being idiotic and aiming too high. Since then, I’ve taken many steps back and calmed down, and I try not to obsess over the whole ordeal.
Getting rejections is not ideal, and of course you want to always aim for an acceptance, but a writer who only gets acceptances is boring and doesn’t learn anything about the business, or their own writing. Getting rejections reminds you that there is still so much you can work on. Getting rejections forces you to keep going and fighting for what you want.
But there are still some days you just want to punt your computer through the wall. Some days, this is acceptable.
What do you normally do when you get a rejection letter? Are you as fed up with form letters as I am? What’s been your best/worst rejection to date?