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Handling rejection

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Story Rejection does hurt, but you'll get over it.

It’s been a bittersweet month. I had one story for an anthology accepted and two other stories rejected.

The accepted story, "Bubbas, Barbarians & Yumbies, Oh My!" was actually one of three or four that was referred to in the synopsis on the official website page for the book out of a cast of two dozen authors. I was totally jazzed by that. I’m all prepared to go out in a three weeks to a convention to help promote the book and then to another convention the following week to promote the book even more.

The two stories that were rejected came within less than a week of one another. One of the two stories had made it immediately past the slush pile. I was notified that it had moved into the editor’s “Short List” and although that didn’t guarantee it would make the final cut for the book, it was promising. So this tells me that the story must have been good and interesting, but for some reason it didn’t seem to fit the needs of the anthology. So while my story didn’t suck, it didn’t sell either.
 


My actual rejection letters with the names of editor/publisher hidden to protect the guilty.

The second story I thought was interesting but the editor said “…it didn’t engage her.” Fortunately this editor is reading and notifying ahead of deadline so like any author should do I began writing another story that will fit the book’s submission guidelines and will try again. So did that editor’s comment mean my story was bad? Did it mean that although I thought the story was interesting and possibly something different than anything else I have read of late that maybe the editor didn’t know quality?

No to both. The story might be good it might totally reek. It may have been unique, possibly to unique and didn’t fit the style of the anthology. Or maybe it wasn’t as good, unique or as interesting as I thought. I submitted it so quickly after proofing it three or four times on my own that I didn’t have a fresh pair of eyes look over the story and give me any feedback.

Are these my only rejection letters? Hell, no. I have enough in a file to wallpaper at least one wall of a small room in the house (which is what I plan on doing when I have a big house bought with the money of my future bestseller, just as a reminder). The Beatles had been turned down by many record labels before they were signed. The same can be said about many authors and short stories or books that went on to greatness.
 


Although shooting the editor might feel like an option, publishers tend to
frown on this course of action and will probably still refuse to sign you.

So what do you do when you receive a rejection letter? Think about that, then ask yourself “What should I do when I receive a rejection letter?” Don’t throw a tantrum, threaten the editor, browbeat yourself or go into a depression. Try these ideas and move on:

1) Reread the story now that you’ve had a few weeks/months away from it and see if it still stands strong or not. Are there areas that could be tightened up, rewritten, made more interesting, etc.?

2) Have someone that is not an apple-polishing friend/family member read the story and give their opinion. Be sure they are a person who at least enjoys the genre that you are writing because if you write horror and you hand it to your female co-worker that likes Harlequin Romance you probably won’t get a good feel of the quality of your story.

3) Find a different potential home for the story. Just because one editor or publisher turned it down doesn’t mean another editor or publisher won’t read it and buy the story. Visit places and/or magazines such as Duotrope's Digest, Ralan.com, Writer’s Digest, The Writer magazine, etc. for markets.

4) Stick the story aside and keep working on other stories. Maybe you will hit on an idea to improve the story later on or find a home for it at another time. Beware that some publishers will occasionally put “No Trunk Stories” in their guidelines. This means they don’t want a story that has been sitting around collecting dust in a trunk (file cabinet, top of your printer, etc.) for years on end that you just keep pushing.

5) In the case of the story that got pushed to the editor’s “Short List” it’s obvious they liked something about my story, writing style or concept. If that’s the case ask the editor/publisher if you may submit more stories, not necessarily for the project that you just received a rejection about but maybe something else. I have had editor’s tell me certain stories I had sent in didn’t quite fit their magazine’s style but they would like to see more. I get a rejection note like that I have another story that I think will work printed and in an envelope headed to the post office within ten minutes. Send it out the same day with a reminder of what they said in their rejection letter. Don’t even bother with a query letter. Just get it back to them while it and you are fresh in their memory.

6) Maybe the story just needs to be burned. There are many stories I have had friends, acquaintances and complete strangers who knew me through someone that asked me to read their work. I don’t do this often unless it’s already published and I am writing a review. On occasion I will read a story for someone and give them honest advice. Don’t read that as I slam their story. I find the good and bad and offer constructive criticism. Sometimes there is no good. Someone may think they are the next Stephen King, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, or; heaven forbid, Stephanie Meyer (who couldn’t write that schlock, but obviously quality isn’t necessary to sell millions). In all honesty some people just aren’t ready to be submitting stories.

***

Does that mean they aren’t a writer? No, anyone can write - they just might not write well. Hone your work; read it over and over and read it out loud (makes a difference); let others read it; practice and write every single day; don’t be afraid to try something new; don’t get so attached to a story that you refuse to change anything; keep your ego in check.

If you think everything you write is gold and will always sell, you’re in for a rude awakening. If you can’t handle rejection or the word “no” then you are in the wrong business. If you are strong-willed, determined & dedicated then you may stand a chance. Keep writing.

For more info: Try finding a local writing/critique group or a free online group such as Critters.org

Comments

  • Brooke Monfort 4 years ago

    Good article. Another thing to keep in mind is that many publishers lean toward a certain style of writing or sensibility of theme within their publication. I've gotten "Good read, we enjoyed it but not right for us. Please keep submitting" on occasion. Usually because I didn't read enough of what they ARE publishing. Lesson learned: thorough research on the vehicle in question saves time and rejection. ;-)

  • Alley 4 years ago

    good article :) rejection is hard and sometimes reading a rejection letter is like reading a dead language or runes LOL

  • Nahteboy 4 years ago

    Brooke,

    I agree that there are times I read a submission guideline and maybe a story or two from a publisher, but that was not enough to get a real feel for everything they look for when sending a story. I would also remind writers to read current material because a publication/publisher may have a different editor than the editor they had when you read their publication "enter amount of time here" ago.