Living with Rejection
(A 10-step guide to coping with the everyday reality of rejection letters)
Rejections come in many forms, and it is interesting to note that the grander the magazine or publisher, the nastier and more impersonal the rejection letter or email. To soften the incessant rain of misery that all writers must at one stage or another deal with on their journey to becoming professional writers, I have drawn upon my own vast experience in this field to provide a quick reference guide to dealing with rejection.
- Cultivate your own sense of self-worth
This is an important skill to help you survive the initial shock of receiving a reply email without an attachment, or a SASE without the additional bulge properly associated with an acceptance contract. As you rip open the letter and unfold the tiny slip of paper within, or double-click the ‘New Mail’ notification, you need to hang on to the simple truth that you are a damn good writer. Learn to grow your nails – every extra millimetre helps as you desperately cling to this idea.
- Bemoan your misfortune
Remember, it’s not your fault the story was rejected, it’s the magazine’s. Some sub-editor clearly flicked through your story or article in a bad mood. The mantra, If only the idiot had handed it to the editor, everything would be fine now, may be useful at this time.
This acceptance of your misfortune will help you reconcile the rejection note with the fact that you were simply hard done by. You’re just going to attach your submission to another email and send it to another magazine. After all, it’s perfect. You’ll send it right after you read through it again to see why they might have rejected it.
- Maintain a professional attitude
Your cover letter should include something to remind the editor that you’re impatient with the rejections you’ve received in the past. Perhaps include something passive-aggressive like ‘I have been collecting rejection slips professionally for about a year now.’
- Learn to detach yourself from the natural flow of time
Three months may be a long time in politics, but for a writer, three months is nothing: it’s a perfectly acceptable period of time to wait for a magazine or publisher to get around to looking at your work. It’s possible to wait four months for a magazine to tell you that they like your story, but want you to clear up the ending a little and resubmit it, only to receive a final rejection 2 months later because it is in first person.
Time is completely irrelevant in this industry. Do not fall into the common misconception that, just because it is taking a long time to get a response, the recipient of your submission is considering it for publication. As the days tick over past the ‘expected response time’ and your palms grow sweaty with anticipation, as images of words in ink on paper begin to haunt your dreams, just remember that the delay is most likely due to an accident in the editor’s office, and that your submission may just be filed in the ‘personal’ or ‘insurance claims’ folder on the editor’s computer, because you didn’t follow the submission guidelines.
Detach yourself from the natural flow of time by ensuring you have a handful of stories out to magazines at any one time (preferably different stories). This means that even if you haven’t done anything for a week, someone, somewhere, is being forced to look at your writing.
An unfortunate side-effect of properly mastering this step is that your life will seem a lot shorter, but then no one said writing was easy.
- Discover the joys of indignation
So you’ve finally received a personalised rejection letter? Apart from this positive indication that a human being actually laid eyes on your words, you should be prepared to vent your frustrations at the incompetence of the editor who rejected your submission. ‘Not enough dialog’ a cheery checkbox might exclaim, or ‘flat characters’, or even ‘tired plot’.
What the editor has missed, of course, is that you were highlighting the protagonist’s alienation from society through his lack of vocalisation; that the blandness of the main characters is entirely due to their empty childhoods (it’s in the second paragraph, how could they have missed it?); and that the predictable nature of the plot is an ironic commentary on the trivialisation of modern relationships. Duh.
- Abandon your friends and family
You friends and family are great. Really, they are. Wonderful, supportive people. Their availability to read your material is a bonus, especially since no magazine seems to be accepting your stories. Your family will tell you how good/bad/exciting/interesting/confused your stories are. When they tell you how good they are, you feel great. When they diverge from your perception of the story, however, you revert to indignation (see step 5) although usually it is wisest to internalise these emotions so as not to jeopardise your inheritance/marriage/friendship.
This repression of emotion is unhealthy, however. It is far more beneficial simply to end the editorial relationship you’ve cultivated with your acquaintances. Do it now! It is easier to accept rejections from faceless (and ignorant) editors.
- Remember that you are only being rejected because you’re not famous
It’s a well-known fact that as a writer gains fame, their writing becomes lousy. This is obvious every time you pick up an edition of the magazine you’ve been trying to submit to and you see a famous name on the by-line of a story. After you’ve read the story, sneering all the way, you throw the magazine aside in disgust, because the famous writer’s story was crap. Your last seven have been much better, and not a single one of them was accepted.
Obviously this famous writer’s name is what’s selling her stories, not her inherent ability to write. If only you were famous you’d be published too. Although this logic is so circular you could use it as a spare tyre for your car, you must never forget to ignore the inherent problems of your assertions if you wish to combat the gloom of rejection.
- Destroy your rejection letters
Although some rejection letters are helpful, by virtue of positive comments on your writing, the majority of them are either critiques or form letters and these are of no relevance to your work of art. The only solution is to destroy them the moment you have finished reading them. Simple filing them in the trash or archive of your email is insufficient. You will need to print them out in order to tear them up.
Remember: if you destroy a rejection letter, then it never existed and you were never rejected.
NB: Do not forget to delete the email afterwards to avoid recurring trauma.
- Your writing is for the elite
It is completely understandable that popular magazines, the ones you want to be published in so badly, are produced for the masses. Your intellectually challenging short story (really a subtle examination of religion’s relevance to today’s society) is all too easily misread, leading to rejection. What you wouldn’t give for an intelligent editor, one who reads your piece with the concentration and devotion which it requires!
If the masses were more intelligent, you would be published by now.
- Ensure you always complete every project to which you commit
Tom Dullemond stumbled out of university with a double degree in Medieval/Renaissance studies and Software Engineering. One of these degrees got him a job and he has been writing and working in IT ever since. Tom was a co-editor of The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy and has sold short fiction to a handful of anthologies, including Danse Macabre: Close Encounters with the Reaper. He writes a regular flash fiction column for The Helix science magazine, and is working on Literarium (www.literarium.net), an online service to help with the project management side of writing. His first middle-grade book, ‘The Machine Who Was Also a Boy’, has just been published through e-Mergent Publications (http://emergent-publishing.com/bookstore/the-machine-who-was-also-a-boy/ ).