By Cynthia Ray
Like the man in the video, a recent form letter rejection rocketed me into a worm-hole of dejection, depression, and lethargy. This gray soup of self-pity, anger and bitterness lasted for five very long minutes before I talked myself down, but it made me consider better ways to handle the inevitable rejection.
First of all, even reading the definition of REJECT makes one feel bad:
Reject: verb \ri-ˈjekt\
- To refuse to believe, accept, or consider (something)
- To decide not to publish (something) or make (something) available to the public because it is not good enough
- To refuse to hear, receive, or admit : rebuf
- To cast off
Hmmpf! Let us reject the definition of rejection. It turns out that rejection is part of the publishing cycle, and has nothing to do with whether the manuscript is good enough. It is part of the natural and inevitable consequence of the act of submitting manuscripts. As spring follows winter, publication will follow rejection as long as you don’t give up. We are in excellent company when rejected. A post from Writers Relief give some illuminating stats:
- John Grisham’s first novel was rejected 25 times.
- Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup for the Soul) received 134 rejections.
- Robert Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) received 121 rejections before it was published and went on to become a best seller.
- Gertrude Stein spent 22 years submitting before getting a single poem accepted.
- Madeline L’Engle received 26 rejections before getting A Wrinkle in Time published—which went on to win the Newberry Medal and become one of the best-selling children’s books of all time.
- Frank Herbert’s Dune was rejected 20 times before being published and becoming a cult classic.
- Stephen King received dozens of rejections for Carrie before it was published (and made into a movie!).*
- James Lee Burke’s novel The Lost Get-Back Boogie was rejected 111 times over a period of nine years and, upon its publication by Louisiana State University Press in 1986, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
How can we stay motivated to keep sending out stories in spite of the ugly spectre of rejection?
Celebrate! You only have a rejection because you sent a story out. One critique group I know hands out candy to any member who announces a rejection. They believe that rejections are a wonderful sign that you are writing, submitting and going about the business of being a writer. Why not have your reward planned in advance so that when the rejection comes you can pull out that hidden bar of exotic chocolate. And, of course, keep a bottle of champagne on hand to celebrate eventual acceptance.
Don’t take it personally. It’s not about you. It’s often not even about your story. It’s about editors preferences, who else might be submitting, the time of day your story rose to the top of the pile or whether the editor had a fight with her partner that morning.
Don’t change the story. Writers are sometimes tempted to mess with their story every time it is rejected to see if they can make it better. Don’t do it. You thought the story was good enough to submit. It still is. Send it out again.
Plan to be persistent. Liz Cratty advises writers to make a list of ten possible markets for their story. Then send it out. If it is rejected, send it out THE SAME DAY to the next market on the list. When you get to the bottom of the list make ten more and keep going until the story is published.
Always have several stories out at one time. You will always have something to look forward to if one is rejected. And statiscally, writers who publish are writers who submit. A lot!
Talk to other writers. Their personal stories of rejection will make you laugh cry, and feel like you are part of a tribe. No one is alone on the planet of “Rejected”. I know that my fellow bloggers have all experienced REJECTION and used it to become better, stronger and more committed. That is, once they had picked themselves up from the fetal position they were lying in.