My story was rejected today. I sent the poor thing to six different journals, and my top choice turned the story down cold. I was sitting in the car while my wife went into the gas station to buy snacks for a short trip home. Scrolling through my phone, I saw an unread e-mail and immediately noticed the journal’s title splashed across the heading. With one eye closed and my lower lip quivering, I clicked the message and read aloud:
Dear Shannon Deaton,
Thank you for sending your work to [Redacted]. Unfortunately, it’s just not quite the right fit for the magazine at this time, given the other selections for the next issue.
I wish you all the best in finding a home for your work.
This is a typical form rejection letter, not even the kind with a personalized message to give the writer some hope. It’s a firm “no,” and the message is loud and clear.
So what should writers do when the familiar rejection letter comes rapping at the chamber door?
It’s okay to get mad. Every blog or journal I’ve read gives the same advice on rejection– Don’t worry about it, get back to work, keep on trucking, put the gun away, etc. I disagree. There’s a moment following rejection when writers just need to draw in a deep breath and hate everything about the process. It’s perfectly justified, and it’s healthy too. Just take a big sup of oxygen, and huff it out with a fat, grumpy frown. Normal people do normal things, and it’s normal to be upset when your baby’s tossed with the bath water. Get mad for a minute.
Think about the rejection letter and consider whether there’s anything useful there. Most of the time, rejections are impersonal and direct. They say things like–Good luck elsewhere, your story just doesn’t fit, try again next time, etc. However, once in a blue moon, a rejection letter gives you useful feedback for future submissions. My rejection example above notes that my story wasn’t a good fit for the magazine at this time. I could drive myself crazy wondering if next time will be different, so I’ll only spend about two minutes on this step before moving on to the next.
Come on, it’s just the first submission, and you’ve probably sent the story to a half-dozen other places. Put on your best Joker face, and flash those pearly whites. It’s one person’s opinion, and due to the sheer volume of submissions, rejection is bound to happen more often than not. Now’s the time to let the anger subside and have a hearty laugh at the system. We’re talking thousands of submissions per journal, with only 2-4 getting accepted during any given publication period. Math is a funny monster, so chuckle in his face, and remember that the more you play the odds, the better your chances will be for actual publication.
Get back to work. Yes, every blog says this, and every blog is right (The other blogs are just wrong when they suggest starting at this step). When you’ve had your little tantrum, it’s time to get back to the business of writing. You’re a writer after all, and if you’re a real one, quitting isn’t an option. There will be more rejections before you’re successful, so increase the volume of quality submissions to increase your chances of getting one through the pipeline. Above all, remember that you’re not defined by a rejection letter; you’re defined by your grit and passion to continue. Write, write, write — submit, submit, submit.
Write for publication, but also write because it’s what you love to do. When the inevitable rejection comes, just sigh, self-reflect, smile, and submit again. Somewhere along the way, you’ll see your name in print, and it’ll all be worth the trouble. It’s always worth the trouble in the end.