There are lots of different kinds of rejection letters you can receive as an author. The most common is the very impersonal form letter. The form letter always thanks you for your submission, then quickly proceeds to inform you that your story or novel “was not right for them at this time.” Fair enough. Is there a better time in the future? Say, 4:00 PM on a Friday when you’ve gotten half hammered already and your barriers are lowered? In all honesty, I find these letters inoffensive and unobjectionable. Writing and publishing is a business, and it’s nothing more than a business letter. Water off the back and all that.
Then there is the much more difficult to deal with personal rejections. These come in two forms. The first, less painful one, says “while I liked your writing, I didn’t quite connect with the story and will regretfully pass this by.” I completely understand that. I often start a book, enjoy the writing, but it doesn’t grab me. I put the book aside and grab another. No harm, no foul.
The second one of these is the hard one. I’ve seen this a few times with short stories. “This was a great story, I really enjoyed it, but it’s not quite right for us.” Hold up there, my friend. I sent it to you precisely BECAUSE I knew it was right for you. This story is, in fact, PERFECT for you! Sigh… well, you take that as you can and move forward. It’s still nice to know it’s been loved, though, even if ultimately you didn’t earn a paycheck from it. I’ve got two of those stories right now, and those are the ones that got me into Viable Paradise, so I do know they are good. Just not quite right for the publications I picked to try and get them published at, even though I felt certain at the time they were. I’ll workshop them, see if/how to improve them, and hopefully pick up some valuable insights into improving my writing.
The final rejection letter I get is my absolute favorite. This really only applies to agents I send novel queries to. Short story publishers almost universal ask for exclusive consideration when you submit, but with agents you can submit to a half dozen or more at once if you like, they don’t mind. Often times their submission pages tell you what to send (first ten pages; a query letter; a two-page synopsis; contact information; a drop of blood; the tears you cried the last time you grew depressed you’d never get published; sixteen very small rocks in the shape of the Cathedral of Notre Dame; a can of Jolt). Sometimes they even include information on when you can expect a reply by, but many admit that they won’t reply if they’re not interested. And many of THOSE don’t tell you how long it takes for them to reach that point. So, I always give those agents (those who don’t reply on rejection and don’t tell you how long it takes them to consider a query) a base value of 90 days to respond, then toss them into the rejection pile.
So, my favorite rejection letter is hearing from one of THOSE folks, long after I’ve swept them into the dustbin, saying they “regretfully will have to pass, but publishing is a very subjective industry, etc.” No problem, my friend. I’ve already marked you accordingly on my spreadsheet, I don’t even have to change it! The pain of that rejection – if there was any – has long passed, so it’s simply a smile, nod, and move the email to my REJECTION folder.
Honestly, I don’t understand how people can get upset at rejections by agents and publishers. I mean, yes, sure, it’s rejection. Rejection always brings with it a certain amount of self-reflection and disappointment. But getting angry with them? Writing them nasty grams telling them how they’ll be sorry? That part I don’t get. It’s a business. They are in this to make money. They get a hundred queries a week and have to wade through them all. It’s tough work, and even the authors we think of as “great” now had to go through the same slew of rejections as their writing got better and better.
No, our best response is to smile, log the rejection in our preferred record keeping tool, and immediately send out another query. Which is what I did when I failed to make it into PitchWars final round this year. I felt great getting one mentor requesting more pages, and while I wish in the end they would have let me know why they ultimately decided to go with one of the others they had made requests of, I know the competition was tough and mine was in the running. And that’s a pretty good feeling, knowing that already published authors saw the potential there.
The point of all this is to tell you the following: stop treating rejection as a personal attack on your worth as a human being. Start treating it as a part of the work you do. It’s work, nothing more. You submit, you log it. You get rejected, you log it. Your job is to maintain a spreadsheet of your submissions and rejections, that’s it. The more rejections you get, the longer the spreadsheet, the more work you’ve done.
Change the nature of your relationship to publication rejection. Change it from an internal, emotional response, to an external, unemotional slice of your workday. Try and find the humor in it, too (like above where I suggested there might be a better time when the agent is good and hammered). 🙂 Writing is your art, your outlet for creativity. Getting published is your work, what you do to try and make money from your art. Do that, and you’ll have a better relationship with rejection.