She Never Had a Rejection?

hI 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?

19 Replies to “She Never Had a Rejection?”

  1. Rejections do bother me a little, but I am learning to take them in stride and get another submission out right away so I’m always waiting for good news. This biz is not for the faint of heart. I’m not sure how I would have reacted to that lady, except to doubt her sincerity – shame on me. : )

    1. Actually, I think you made the best suggestion of all–get something else out right away. Another author I know says she always has several things out so that even if a rejection comes, there’s always hope down the pipeline.

  2. LOL – hide the body. Ha ha…somehow I wonder if she didn’t take those “we like your work but can’t use it at this time” letters as non-rejections. 🙂 Ah, the naiive. But maybe she did win the writing lottery. But these stories almost never happen, and it’s tough to recognize we will have more failures than successes. We must keep at it, and keep trying. It’s tough, and it does affect me, but the “picking yourself up” part seems to matter just as much, if not more, than the success part. 🙂

  3. Ha! Carol, this really tickled me. Rejections always bring up emotion – especially when we take them personally. Since Laurie and I write together there’s usually one of us that can keep perspective and lift the other up. Over the years we’ve come to see rejection of our work as a way for God to shape and mold the writing (and the writers). We pray over the rejection and ask for insight into the truth of what it says about the work. We’ve also come to see God guiding our career through closed doors as well as open ones. It’s part of the writing life. Betsy

  4. I’ve always known rejection letters were part of the game and I prepared myself to receive them. Still, when my first one came, I cried. I know. I’m a wuss, but I just gotta get the tears out so I can move on. Later, I title a folder “The journey” and filed the letter inside. I took my first step!
    Thanks for this post. Laughed hard, then looked up your books.

  5. My sister Pat King had 100 rejections before she won the Guide Post contest. This happened years ago. It apparently was God’s time schedule to open the door as she has been a successful writer ever since. The 100 rejections was the beginning of her journey. We can’t forget, God has a time schedule for each of us. If it is an assignment, we stay with it until the end.

    I loved your post.

  6. Thank you, Carol, for the good belly laugh at the end of a looong day, and yet your words are oh, so, true. (: Actually, what I like best about submissions rejection, especially during the learning curve, is that it helps prepare a writer for all the other rejections they’ll inevitably get in this business (revisions, proposals, reviews, ratings, contests…), Sure, it’s painful at first, but without developing that thick skin and learning to face them, the next obstacles might appear insurmountable.

  7. Now that was good for a good laugh, and I would probably have wrung the woman’s neck right there. I’ve had so many rejections I can’t count them, especially since they’ve gone electronic. Even after writing 10 books and having contracts for five more in the works, I’ve received rejections for new projects. A rejection once sent me into depression for several days, but now I realize it’s a great learning tool and can really help improve my writing.

    The funniest rejection I ever received was for a thank you letter I wrote to an editor for the great job they did with an article of mine they had published. I loved the layout and the artwork. I got a rejection letter from that same editor saying my new article didn’t fit their needs at this time. That gave me a really good laugh but made me wonder about the editorial staff.

    1. THAT is seriously funny–a rejection letter of a thank-you note. Can you send a rejection of their rejection note? This could be the start of something big! Or at least something fun.

      1. Steven James has a keynote about rejecting rejection letters. It’s hilarious, of course!

  8. Oh, Carol, what a wonderful piece! I often use my “I received 63 rejections before I ever had anything published” as an encouragement to writers to keep trying. I then tell them that when they’ve gotten their 64th rejection, I give them permission to quit. Of course, I still wouldn’t, but that does get a good laugh.

    …where I hid the body…Hahahahahaha! Love it!

  9. Very funny, Carol…and true and helpful, too. Thanks for writing this, and reminding me about it via the AWSA loop–I’m tweeting it now! 🙂

  10. Has someone discovered the body yet? Too bad you couldn’t bury it under her collection of rejection letters. I could have supplied a ton of them. One of my books which eventually did get published was rejected by 42 different publishers. And that was after I’d had over 10 books published. After writing for over 30 years, rejection letters don’t bother me as much. Actually, I’m just glad to get any response at all. These days, editors evidently don’t feel like they have to respond with anything. HEre’s another funny story. I submitted a book proposal to a major house. Never heard anything. I tried several times to contact them and never heard anything back. Two years later–and after that book had already been published by another publisher, the editor calls and asks if the book is still available to publish. HUH???? He didn’t seem unsettled at all that he hadn’t followed through when it was available. Oh well, such is the journey of writing. thanks for sharing, Carol.

    1. Two years later? I just can’t imagine how that was managed in house. If two years went by and I was supposed to remember, locate and retrieve a file from two years previous, we’d all be in trouble. I’m glad your work found a home elsewhere.

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