Amicus Scriptor

September 27, 2013

chicago daily law bul




Last month, I encouraged you to submit your story or self-contained novel excerpt to a magazine, journal or contest. And today, you may be all ready to go — story polished, guidelines followed, deadline still pending in the future.

But perhaps you haven’t yet worked up the courage to hit “submit” or drop the entry in the mail. Or if you have, you feel a little like you’ve left your first-born on the steps of the orphanage, or worse — since there’s such a slim chance your story will be adopted by a loving editor.

It’s a little different than filing a brief and waiting for the judge’s decision — the legal arguments are what they are and, sometimes, you know your case is a loser. But a story you’ve poured out from the depths of your creative soul? Getting a negative ruling from the editor or contest judges feels like a personal rejection. You proposed marriage and the other said “no.” Not even “thanks for the offer.”

Of course rejection of a piece of writing feels personal, but I can’t imagine there is a published writer anywhere who hasn’t been rejected at least once. This isn’t kindergarten. Not everyone gets a medal. You’ll live through it. How bad can it be?

It depends. The first rejection hurts more than the hundredth, but the latter is mammothly depressing. And, I should hasten to add, highly unlikely.

While there are stories out there of multiple rejections by some of the world’s most popular writers (J.K. Rowling being an oft-cited example), I have to say I personally would not have made it to 100 if there hadn’t been a little encouragement along the way. Which for me makes 100 rejections highly unlikely.

Then again, if you have practiced your craft and forged a story that you deem worthy of publication, I believe you will succeed — at least in some small way — long before No. 100 comes in. The key is to remember that the rejection is not of you as a person or even as a writer. It is only a rejection of a single piece of writing.

Experienced writers/submitters don’t expect to get every submission in a journal or place in every contest. Nor can the writer assume that any single result is determinative of literary merit. There are hundreds — no, thousands — of stories out there. Remember what Keyhole magazine said was its policy? We publish what we like.

I submitted a very quirky story of mine, “This Change Not Come from Sky,” to a contest offered by the Tampa Review, and didn’t place at all, only to get a note from the editor saying she was intrigued by the story and wanted to publish it!

Along the way in my writing career there have been other “honorable mentions” and “long lists” and “short lists,” but there have also been a handful of “personal” rejections — the kind writers appreciate almost as much as acceptance. A personal rejection is a handwritten note that says something positive —“loved the concept,” “strong writing,” “please submit again.”

If handwritten or personalized, these rejections are very encouraging. However, if you get the equivalent of “each year we receive many qualified applications,” then despite the friendly and encouraging “best of luck in your career” closing, the rejection is not what I would call “personal.”

In literary-agent-speak, it looks like this: “While there is much to admire here, I fear I am not as passionate about it as I need to be to sell it.” From an editor, the comment, “not right for our list” is at best ambiguous, but if an editor says, “if you are willing to consider deleting the XYZ subplot,” one should, if one is interested in getting published by that editor, delete it, rewrite it and resubmit it. That’s an encouraging, personal rejection.

Sometimes, when a rejection comes in, there is the opportunity to reread the piece with a new eye, imagining yourself as the judge. A lot of time passes between the final polish and the rejection and, when the piece comes back, some writers just turn it around and submit to a different journal, but I like to take the time to reread the rejected piece “cold.” (Maybe it’s an age thing — but it’s surprising how often I can actually view a story like a new reader rather than its writer, and I almost always find some changes that I think improve the story and give it a better shot next time around.)

And if a number of rejections come in for the same story, then it’s time to consult a professional editor (if I haven’t already) and get a new perspective. A hundred rejections really aren’t necessary to convince me that the piece isn’t working (yet) and that I should put it aside until I’m able to see the problem.

In the meantime, because I tend to be a little stubborn, I turn my creative energies to something new. Because they say success is the best revenge.

12 steps writers use to recover from rejection
1. Breathe
2. Admit you are powerless over editors,  judges and mail carriers
3. Go to the gym and/or join a boxing club
4. Nap
5. Reread the rejection
6. Reread your work
7. Find at least one word or metaphor that could (possibly) be better
8. Rewrite
9. Resubmit
10. Forget about it
11. Recycle the rejected manuscript or treat yourself to a stack of clean paper
12. Write the first sentence of your next work


Related Posts