Back in fifth grade, when I first started dreaming about becoming an author, I had no idea how much rejection comes with that goal. Back then, writing was all sunshine and flowers. A fun thing I did that maybe (maybe?) I had some skill for and enjoyed doing.
I wrote because it was fun. I wrote precisely what I liked, without worrying about whether something was cliché, or had been overdone, or was basically the book I’d just read, or was too Mary-Sue-ish. I wrote epic fan fiction (so fun). I wrote “novels” in a weekend that were 100 pages long. I wrote short stories that went on and on and on without a conflict. Nobody else ever had to read them, so I indulged myself however I liked.
So Many No’s…
But by the time I started submitting short fiction to actual markets (for actual money), I quickly began to realize that rejections aren’t just common, they’re the norm, especially for beginning authors. My short stories were too long. They didn’t have any tension. They didn’t have character-driven plots, or involve a new concept, or spin an old concept in a new way. They didn’t start with a hook. They didn’t end with change.
It quickly became clear that I had a lot to learn, and the #1 skill I needed to learn was how to deal with NO. No Thank You’s and Hell No’s; Slow No’s and Fast No’s. (My fastest rejection took—I believe—about three hours from submission to NO.) There were Sorry, No’s from editor friends. There were No’s—then Oops, Yes!—then Actually, No’s. There were We Love This So Much OMG, But No’s.
At first, a rejection slip would devastate me. For several days I’d replay the words of those classic Form No’s–“Thank you for submitting X for our consideration. Unfortunately, it just didn’t work for us.”–wallowing in the fact that a story I had such high hopes for had crashed and burned. It would sink my mood into the muck. Rejections like that seemed to stand as proof that I sucked, that my writing sucked, that I’d never sell anything or “make it” (whatever that means) as a Real Writer.
I used to have elaborate processes for getting over rejections: a square of chocolate, a used book, TV or video games and tea, a new cheap notebook. I even created a placebo called “Rejection Balm” and I’d glob a tablespoon of Fluff into my mouth to “cure” the rejection blues. (At least a faux cure was funny and usually made me laugh, whether I took the “remedy” or not!)
The Joy of Personal Rejections
But over the years, as I submitted more often and learned how to write a hook, how to trim out extra words, how to make sure something changes by the end of the story, I started getting nicer rejections: Personal Rejections that actually tell you what they liked or didn’t like about your story, and what you could fix to do better next time. I started getting Send More rejections. And I started getting Yes. Still not as often as I’d like, but even a couple Yeses make you feel like you’ve got a shot.
These days, I work on my craft. I submit whenever I can. A story is only “finished” to me when it’s sent out into the world (a fatal perfectionistic flaw of mine early in my career, when I still felt sure I could make every story I wrote absolutely perfect before submitting). I still get a lot of No’s, but more and more of them are Personal No’s, Encouraging No’s, and I’m getting more Yeses, too.
Losing Their Sting
After hundreds of No’s, they start to lose their sting. They’re not personal anymore, not gut-wrenching. I still feel a little sad (even today, I got one from a market I love for a story I love, and still feel a little pang of “Aw, Man!” but it’s not the same), but I’ve learned a lot. Sometimes a story just isn’t a good fit for a market. Sometimes it’s simply not good enough to beat out the one other story on the editor’s desk. Sometimes an editor likes your style, sometimes they don’t.
And it’s okay. It doesn’t mean your story sucks. It doesn’t mean you suck. It just means it’s time to get that submission out to the next place.
I specifically don’t edit stories once I’ve sent them out anymore, unless the fix is an easy tweak that won’t delay a story getting back out there ASAP. For me, that’s necessary, because I could tinker with a story forever in the hopes of making it perfect, but I’ve learned to let go.
There will always be another idea. There will always be another market. And I’ve sold some stories to fantastic markets after they’ve been rejected by a LOT of other places, even less prestigious ones! The most important thing is to keep moving forward. The No’s are just hurdles. If you’re running fast enough, and aiming high enough, you won’t even notice when you fly over them.
^ ^ ^
How do you handle rejection? Do you have a special routine or treat for coping when you receive one? Are you still in the early phases where each one feels like a coal dropped into your shoe, or are you a hardened Rejection Warrior, who eats rejection slips for breakfast? What have you learned about rejections during your writing journey? I’d love to hear from you!