Talking Myself Through a Rejection

Having a labor of love rejected by a purveyor of art is probably one of the nastiest blows to one's egos one can ever sustain. Whether your medium is music, paint, voice, instrument, body, or words, the life of an artist is dominated by masochism. We know our odds of breaking through into the mainstream or into some form of esteemed ubiquity in this field is low, and yet the most dedicated persevere. It's akin to stepping outside during a thunderstorm with a near certainty that you're going to be struck by lightning, and then doing it again the next day with a lightning rod in your hand. In the last year, I've submitted three short stories for consideration to handfuls of would-be publishers. The first one was accepted. It was a shock, really. It's the sort of rare event on the scale of a full-court shot thrown backward over one's head. The other two have received two or three rejection each and still have yet to find homes within someone's pages. I have to say, it sucks. I expect rejection every time I send a story out, but those expectations do little to absorb the blow of disappointment that someone didn't find me good enough to feature in their publication. My first reaction is to berate myself. I'm not one of those people who blames others off the bat when things don't go well. So in order to cope and not end up in a bloody fugue of self-flagellation, I have to engage in a cognitive gymnastic routine that makes Cirque de Soliel look like the Arthritis Brigade. How do I cope with rejection? I remind myself my story is clean, first off. When I submit to a publisher, I make sure it has been passed through at least two other pairs of eyes before and I click "send" or stick it in the mail. I know I'm not being rejected because I'm a sloppy writer, and that is reassuring. Second, I consider that I may have chosen the wrong publisher for my body of work. Usually when I search for takers, I try and read an excerpt or a sample story if they have one available. Sometimes, I realize I am taking a risk in making a match, and those have so far been the ones to reject me off the bat. My reasons for my rejections so far seem to lie in a mismatch of writer and publisher. My story doesn't fit their needs; it just wasn't their thing. It's not because I wrote a bad story. If you have honest critics on your side, and if you truly believe in yourself, you can take heart in this. Many editors reject submissions because they're looking for a certain "flavor" to fit between the pages, and your particular story doesn't have it. If you're craving chocolate, and I stick a spoonful of hot sauce in your mouth, chances are, you're going to spit it out (even if you like hot sauce). They very well may have seen some promise in the story, but because it may have stuck out like a mutilated thumb in their magazine of chick lit, it was tossed. Nothing personal. The fact is, if a relationship of any kind isn't going to work due to the needs of the business you're attempting to entice, you're going to be rejected. It doesn't matter if you're selling stories or prescription drugs, and it doesn't matter if those stories or those drugs are effective. Do I wish the editors that have rejected me so far would give me more helpful feedback than a form letter that ultimately says "thanks, but no thanks?" Of course. But I recognize that editors have to wade through massive slush piles in order to meet deadlines. Rare personal boosts are a painful truth in this business. If anything, they help you to develop a thicker skin. One way to help soothe the inevitable sting of rejection is to submit work to people who accept simultaneous submissions. Having more than one line cast in that unforgiving ocean makes a rejection feel a little less painful. I know I'm a good writer. I'm no Joyce or Dickens, but I believe in the modicum of talent stored in this brain of mine and I intend to let it carry me where it may. I'll never get anywhere unless I keep writing and keep learning. With that sentiment, I keep pushing forward. Eventually, someone will yield.


  1. MS just got rejected by Lyrical. Back to the drawing board for me. :(

  2. Years ago, an editor replied to my submission with the words: "I'm rejecting these pieces of paper, not their author. Send me more." He eventually bought some stuff (work that had been previously rejected by other editors).

    Do you enter many contests? The best ones are judged by a panel (blindly; no name on the manuscript). One judge may fight for your work and keep it in the mix. This has happened to me several times -- with good results. A winning entry then has a very good chance of seeing publication in the magazine or journal you considered for the piece in the first place. Manuscripts are like resumes... a good track record counts for a lot.

  3. Makes you want to shake people and tell them that hot sauce ON chocolate tastes delicious.