I still remember the first rejection letter I received as a writer. I had submitted a query to Reader’s Digest (yes, I was reaching for the stars!) about a short story that received an Honourable Mention in an ICWF writing contest and already been published in The Old Albertan. Reader’s Digest, however, sent me a polite rejection letter with a page of information on submitting to their magazine.
I threw that rejection letter in the recycle bin. Then I stormed around the house, cleaning out my desk and doing some other random things. After about ten minutes of that, I realized why I was reacting the way I was, and I sat down for a few minutes to think. Okay, the magazine didn’t want my story. It wasn’t the end of the world. I fished their letter out of the recycle bin and put it in my writing binder. Then I told myself to develop a tough skin and submit it again.
Keep Trying after a Rejection Letter
And I’ve been doing that for roughly the last ten years. Sure, it’s still disappointing to receive a “no” from an editor when I hoped for a “yes.” And yes, every “yes” is a huge excitement, especially if it comes with a cheque.
Both “yes” and “no” teach me about the magazine, though. Next time I submit to them, I have a better idea of what the editor is looking for. I’ve learned to use the editor’s response—whether it’s a rejection letter or an acceptance—to challenge myself to do better and to submit again.
Rejection Isn’t Personal
Last week, Pages of Stories publisher Darlene Poier emailed me with a request that made me smile. She’s hosting a workshop for writers and wanted to discuss rejection:
I was wondering if you would mind if I used you as an example in my workshop. I realized today, that perhaps it needs to be said that when a publisher doesn’t accept a story for publication that it’s not personal. There might be lots of reasons for it, but it’s not in any way a reflection on the author personally.
The reason I’d like to use you as an example is that I think you are the only author that has submitted work for each issue of the magazine. I think it shows a lot of confidence in your own ability as a writer to have kept sending in stories even though it wasn’t quite as successful for issue #2 and #3. But that you were successful for the Winter 2011 shows a lot about your tenacity and belief in yourself.
I’ve come to realize recently, that some authors have been offended because I didn’t accept their stories. In most cases where this has been a problem, the authors have just started to dip their toes in the writing waters or they are quite young (by my perspective). You have been a stalwart supporter and it’s much appreciated.
I appreciated Darlene’s perspective on the matter, as I’ve appreciated her encouragement with each submission I’ve sent to Pages of Stories. And she’s right: it isn’t personal when an editor sends a rejection letter. As I compare the two stories that Pages of Stories accepted to the two stories they rejected, I get a better picture of what the magazine is looking for. The stories that weren’t published there will be published somewhere else (when I have time to look for that “somewhere else”!).
If you are a writer, do you remember your first rejection letter? How do you deal with “no” from an editor?
I remember my first rejection and like you I felt hurt and offended. Many years later, I have come to see the value in rejection – both in the comments I’ve received which have helped me hone my craft, and also in the development of the tenacity you mentioned. Congrats on the opportunity as well!
Great post, KBW. Congrats on your inclusion in the Winter 2011 edition of Pages of Stories! Darlene is such a personal publisher; she really cares and keeps in touch with authors. It’s wonderful.
Rejection always hurts, but it does get easier the further in you get. I had a lot of acceptances first, and then the rejection came later, so that helped to build my confidence, but “no” doesn’t mean your writing isn’t any good, it just means they can’t use it right now (or so I tell myself!).