Accepting Rejection

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I started submitting short stories to literary journals in the snail mail era, and amassed enough rejection slips to wallpaper a small house. photo credit: http://www.freephotosbank.com

There was a time when I took editorial rejection personally, allowing Dear Writer letters send me into a tailspin of despair. Having my work passed – even with praise – was so painful, that for a while I stopped submitting entirely – and delayed becoming published as a result.

Then, at a dinner party, I met a writer who had made it his goal to amass one hundred rejections in a single year. In the process, he placed eight stories.

By then, I was no longer writing short stories, but novels, and was seeking an agent. I researched likely matches, queried several at a time, received multiple requests for my manuscript, and eventually had two different agents interested in my work. Suddenly, I had a choice.

In hindsight, I can now see that in those early days of sending out short stories, I made three critical mistakes.

  1. I sent out too few submissions;
  2. I didn’t follow up on passes with personal notes;
  3. I took the rejections personally.

TOO FEW SUBMISSIONS

I sent my short stories to five journals total, rather than five journals at a time. Simultaneous submissions are nearly universally accepted these days, and there are many journals, both print and on-line, that accept them. But the truth is, many are inundated with submissions, and response time can be long. So it’s a good practice to identify up to a dozen or so journals that would be a good match for your work. It even helps to think of the editors as your audience. In fact, they are. Whatever you do to make their job easier increases your changes of having your work read.

Three simple ways to please a first reader include:

  1. Send only the kind of work their magazine asks for;
  2. Follow their submission guidelines exactly;
  3. Make sure your work is not only your best, but also properly formatted. (I’ve judged contests, and I can tell you: formatting matters).

Because editors are often inundated with submissions, because reading is subjective, and because journals may have specific needs, your submission might not make the cut this time. As soon as you hear from one magazine, send the story out to another. Have a list of suitable places for each story, and keep the story in circulation until either it places or you exhaust your initial list.

FOLLOW UP ON PERSONAL NOTES

Most of my stories were rejected with personal notes from editors who said something positive about my work. Rather than send them another story while my work was fresh in the editor’s mind, I wallowed in self-pity, which felt good at the time. But it’s really self-indulgent and counterproductive.

Especially at the beginning of the submission process, before you have any stories published, it’s good to think of sending out stories as a way of introducing yourself to the journals you’ve identified as a good fit for your voice. Consider submissions as a kind of networking, and when an editor responds, follow up with more work. Editors are human, and relationships matter.

DON’T TAKE REJECTIONS PERSONALLY

Reading is personal; selection for publication subjective. Just because a journal didn’t take your short story doesn’t mean it’s not any good; it really means it’s not right for that journal at that moment in time.

That said, if you strike out a dozen times with one story, read it again. Ask others to read it. And if you ask others for feedback, listen to what they have to say.

One of the hardest and most important skills to develop as a writer is listening to your readers’ responses without defending your work. But that’s the subject of another post.

 

Deborah Lee Luskin started submitting in the snail mail era, and amassed enough rejection slips to wallpaper a small house. Learn more at http://www.deborahleeluskin.com

 

25 thoughts on “Accepting Rejection

  1. Getting published, and writing a blog, are numbers games. Just like sales, the more contacts and submissions made, the more acceptances. We writers who want to get published, or host good blogs, just have to keep submitting and posting.

  2. I used to give my stories to my friends and family to read and I can say it is the worst thing you can do because they love you and everything you do is good to them. It wasn’t until I gave my work to people who are writing themselves and are not close to me that I realised what I was doing wrong. So that would be my suggestion even though it may hurt your feelings a little bit. But it’s better to do that than to get rejected by publishers and wonder why.
    Thank you for your post. Emilia.

  3. I like the goal of 100 rejections in a year. I remember hearing an interview on NPR about a cartoonist who submitted a carton to the New Yorker every week. I think he submitted something like 550 cartoons before the next one was accepted. I haven’t submitted anything in quite awhile but will refer back to this post when I do. Thanks!

  4. Thank you for such great advice! I have been trying to get published, but I have not submitted to very many places. I’m hoping that my blog will help me to build up my platform and my confidence.

  5. Thanks for the blog – my first first novel pitched attracted 150 rejections – my second 250 – but that was 15 years ago (and please don’t tell anyone – but in hindsight they weren’t that good!). But the rejections taught me to be resilient, be ballsy and brave and to be a better writer. Keep at it and trust in your abilities.

  6. Very interesting read! Very good read! I am in my mid 30’s and have gotten off to a late start due to military service and education. I love to write but do not know how to get started or who to contact. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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