I sold my 140th short story the other week. Bloody good job, me. I’m a writing machine and superhero wrapped up in one. Booyah!
But—and there had to be one, didn’t there—that 140th sale is only the tip of my literary iceberg. The 140 is what everybody sees. What is hidden below the surface are the 600 hundred or so rejections that those sales are built upon. Those 600 rejects have come from magazine editors, agents and publishers. While they’ve said no, others have said yes and usually to the things previously passed over. My trunk story drawer is pretty empty as things go.
So when rejection comes knocking on my door, it’s spitballs off my armor plating. After 600 hits, I don’t even notice anymore. Right?
Rejection hurts. It’s depressing at times and demoralizing at others. I haven’t gotten used to it. I view every letter or email notification with a mix of dread and hope. I’m hoping for good news when I know chances are that it isn’t. I’d be a liar if I said it didn’t get to me. There are some markets where I’d literally kill someone to get in their pages, so a rejection from them hits as hard as a kick in the balls.
But rejection doesn’t deter me—and it shouldn’t deter any other writer either. Rejection is part of the trade, no different than paper supplies, ink cartridges, return mailers and royalty checks. Rejection is to be accepted and learned from.
Something can be learnt from rejections, even the form letters. What I sent them could be entirely inappropriate. I can moan all I like, but the editor of Romantic Times isn’t going to buy my story about identical twin serial killers. However, Serial Killers Monthly might. So I check my market knowledge regularly to ensure I know what the editors are after. Also, I take note of comments. If an editor/agent/publisher has gone to the trouble of writing a personal note, I’ll consider it. I might not take their advice. Ask ten people about a story they read and you’ll get ten different answers. But I’ll reread my piece to see if the editor’s comments have some validity. If they do, I’ll make changes. If they don’t, I won’t. Editors, like writers, aren’t infallible. An editor’s point of view might be valid, but it doesn’t mean another editor won’t have a different view. (Unless you’re editor reading this. Then, of course, you are God and I don’t dare to stare into your light. You are like Julie. You are always right).
The rejections that hurt most take a little time to digest. These tend to result in a slammed door, manuscripts thrown around the room and the odd expletive tossed about like confetti. I tell the dog and cats that these people don’t deserve one of my stories. I wouldn’t sully my name by being associated with these guttersnipes. As you can see, it’s a hard knock, but like an on-field injury, I walk it off. When Julie has peeled me from the ceiling, I scoop up my now muddled manuscript, complete with rejection, and place it in my in tray. When I’m in a better frame of mind (usually, a couple of weeks later) I’ll revisit what the rejection said. Can I learn anything from it? Can I make improvements? Do I know anyone who lives close to this editor who wouldn’t mind roughing them up for me?
So rejection hurts, but it’s a necessary evil. Rejection makes me stronger, faster, better. Er, hold on a second, I just turned into the Six Million Dollar Man. Never mind. You get the gist.
PS: No editors were harmed in the writing of this article—well, not the ones who accepted my work. Hint. Hint.
PPS: The picture is of me and my new editor, Chase.