I once met a woman at a writers conference and, as writers often do, we began sharing what we’d written, what we hoped to improve on, perhaps publications we’d like to write for some day, editors we wanted to meet. The usual stuff. But when I talked about the last rejection note I’d received, this woman got a curious little smile on her face and sweetly said, “You know, I don’t typically say this out loud, but I’ve never ever gotten a rejection. . .not even once.”
That conference was a while ago, so I no longer remember where I hid the body.
But at the time, my snark-o-meter went on full alert, and I found myself thinking dozens of less-than-charitable thoughts.
Maybe she’s never submitted anything. That would sure hold down the rejection letters.
Maybe she’s writing for a very tight niche–like Amish women scuba divers–and she just happens to be one of three writers on the planet with the right contacts.
Maybe (and here’s where I sank to my lowest level of cynicism), maybe she’s sleeping with the editor. That’s because she’s married to him, and together they started a third-rate magazine and she provides 90% of the content with snappy pieces like “You, Ginseng Tea, and a Happier Colon.”
See, I told you I’d reached a new low.
Big sigh. God probably just sent her my way to improve my humility and compassion skills. Apparently I have a ways to go.
Here’s the thing—I think she was being sincere, and was possibly even surprised at her own good fortune. And she may well have written lovely and informative pieces for top-notch magazines. But the problem with her comment is that it’s the writer’s equivalent of winning the lottery. The real truth is, in the world of writing, if you’re not getting rejections, you’re just not in the game.
The publishing industry has a very steep learning curve. For much of it you’ve just got to get in there and start. I’m not saying you should skip the process of researching the publication ahead of time, spelling the editor’s name correctly, and fashioning your piece with their readers in mind. In other words, don’t ignore the process of learning craft and industry. But much of that learning will come from doing, failing, rethinking, and doing again. Almost every published author I know has at least one massive fail to their credit.
A rejection letter can mean many things, but the only sure thing it means is that you sent something in. So instead of seeing it as proof positive that you can’t write, consider other very likely scenarios such as:
- The magazine had something like it recently.
- The magazine has something like it already in the hopper and it’s working its way up.
- The magazine has worked with a particular writer who’s been talking about doing something like this, and they’d rather take a chance on someone who has some history with the magazine.
- Or maybe the piece was just too ______ [insert word of choice—edgy, tame, academic, casual, ecumenical, evangelical, rural, urban, prissy, intense] for their magazine’s style or their audience.
Learn to embrace rejections. Unless you plan to win the writers’ lottery, there’s simply no way to avoid them. In fact, they’re like a merit badge, proving you’re in the game. I’m not saying you’ll ever come to love them. But you can see them as useful. I, for one, open them, learn from them, and then use them to wallpaper my bathroom.
What about you? Do rejections bring you down, sometimes to the point that they impact your next submission?