On Writing, Submitting, and the Dreaded Rejection Slip

I’ve been writing fiction basically since I learned what writing is.

I submitted my first shorty story for publication at the age of seventeen. Naturally (and rightly so) it was rejected by every market that saw it. I learned a long time ago that when you hear the word “no” you can’t stop listening there, because there will almost always be a “but here’s why” that follows it, and that’s some of the most helpful information anyone will ever give you.

Input from enthusastic friends and family is great; it can give you the confidence boost you need to keep going when you’ve let circumstances convince you that you really do suck, and should maybe explore the options culinary school has to offer. But you know what? Hearing nothing but “Wow, this is great!” and “I loved it!” won’t teach you a damned thing. And for a long time, that’s all I listened to, at least until that first rejection letter.

The editor of a now-defunct magazine, both of whom will remain nameless, sent me a form rejection with one line written on the bottom that said “Next time, after you finish the story, finish the work and polish it.” Rather than get upset, I listened to what he said after the “no,” and took it to heart. To this day, everything I write, from a novel to this blog post, sees at least one full rewrite.

If you search for “rejection letter”, you’ll find some highly amusing stories about the things writers do with their rejection slips. Some paper their walls; others line the birdcage with them. One famous author wrote that he would sometimes wonder what it would be like to blow his nose on a rejection slip during bouts of depression. The one thing that seems to run as a common thread through all of them is that they collect them, study them, even brood over them.

I don’t. I read them, take note of any advice if offered, and chuck them. I’ve been submitting fairly regularly for twenty years; I’d need a large filing cabinet to store all the rejection letters I’ve ever received. I open them all eagerly, just like the rest of you. The trick is, I devour the rejections just as much as I do the accepts. Both have a ton of information to offer.

So keep writing, keep submitting, and read those rejection letters. If you get a form letter, chances are good you didn’t meet the requirements for submission. If you know you did, then it’s likely that what you sent in just wasn’t what they were looking for. Keep sending it out until you’re more in love with the next one, or it finds a home.

And don’t stop listening after the “no;” they’re trying to help you.

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