A lot of people around me are talking about rejection these days. When you consider that I tend to surround myself with writers that should come as no surprise. However, more people than usual are talking about rejection, so now it’s my turn.
If you write for publication you will get rejected. People, no matter how awesome thay are, may not understand the extent of that or how it affects you unless they are also writers. Jo is fantastic. He is incredibly supportive of me and my writing. Wholly and completely. Yet, I remember a year or two ago I was happy about receiving a personalised rejection from an agent. Jo made some sort of joke, I don’t remember it exactly, what I remember is what it helped coalesce in my brain. That is this: As I writer I deal with a ridiculous amount of rejection. In order to stay sane and be able to keep doing this I need to learn to celebrate every victory, no matter how small. That means personal rejections.
My acceptance ratio, according to Duotrope’s Digest, for the past twelve months is 27.27%. This is a bit of an aberration based on the fact I’m not submitting as much so far this year than last. Last year my acceptance ratio was about 15%. Let’s play with that number. A 15% acceptance ratio means that people are telling me no 85% of the time. I send out ten pieces I get told no eight (and a half) times. Crazy! You need to develop a “thick skin” or find a way to deal with rejection if you’re going to keep plugging away in the face of that. As if that weren’t bad enough, I’m told by Duotrope’s Digest that my acceptance ratio is higher than the average for people submitting to the same markets as me. That means I’m stinking lucky to be accepted 15% of the time.
Compounding the issue is the way we perceive those rejections. We give them so much more weight than they deserve. Truly. For example, one of the people who co-wrote the poem “Alone” which we sold to Sorcerous Signals blogged about it recently and said something about the huge number of rejections the piece recieved before being sold. He, Arnold Emmanuel, actually said, and I quote:
…Rhonda sent out submission requests and omg, lots of rejection letters. I thought to myself “Oh well, it won’t be published, that’s okay, least we tried,” and then one day all of a sudden I get an email that says something like “Remember that poem Alone we worked on,” and I’m thinking oh, and another rejection letter, but no, we got published!
How many rejection letters did we collect on the poem before selling it? How many ‘nos’ did we get before he figured ‘Oh well…’ and gave up on that poem being published? Two. Two. And not two markets that are easy to place work with either. I’m talking about Lone Star Stories and Goblin Fruit.
Now, lest it seem like I’m picking on Arnold, I’m not. I’m merely using his words to show how subjective our perception of rejection is because I think we give it too much power. I’ve another friend who wrote a story with the intention of submitting it to a specific market, sent it to that market and got turned down. His reaction is to trunk the story. I was shocked. Really? All that work and you’re going to say ‘Oh well…’ and give up on it after one submission? See? Again, giving a rejection notice too much power.
As an editor I can tell you, someone passing on your submission does not mean the submission is bad. It really doesn’t. Honest, honest, honest.
Remember Heinlein’s rules for writing*?
1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you write.
3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4. You must put the work on the market.
5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.
I tend to disagree with #3, but as for 4 & 5 he’s so right. Okay, occasionally I will stop submitting a story and trunk it, for whatever reason, but not after only a handful of rejection notices.
Rejection is a part of writing for publication. It’s something we all need to deal with and the better our coping skills are the more likely we are to succeed because, when it comes down to it, perseverance is a HUGE ingredient in the recipe for success in this industry.
When I first started submitting my work I picked ‘easier’ markets who had higher acceptance ratios than others. I didn’t mind if I didn’t get paid then, I just wanted to see my name in print. For me, that was a good way to go because it allowed me to deal with rejection on a smaller scale than I would have been if I’d started out submitting to pro markets. Slowly, over time as my confidence built my standards rose. Now I don’t submit to markets that don’t offer me some sort of payment and I enjoy sending my stuff to the tougher markets. It’s a challenge. (Just wait until they start saying yes, then there will be a hell of a party here at the Parrish household 😉 )
I also, like I told Jo so long ago, deal with rejection by celebrating my victories, even the little ones. Every acceptance, every personal rejection, every sincere compliment for my work is worthy of celebration, and gets it. As for when something gets rejected, my favorite way to deal with that is to immediately send it out again. Then, instead of dwelling on the rejection and feeling bad I can feel hopeful and optimistic about potential acceptance at the new market.
A friend of mine did a blog entry about rejection recently and asked if it ever stops stinging, even a little bit. For me the answer is yes. I am disappointed when someone passes on a piece I’ve sent them, but I’m not hurt. There’s a distance between myself and my writing that wasn’t there in the begining, and an understanding that really, sometimes stories and poems just aren’t a good fit. It doesn’t mean they aren’t a good read.
How do you deal with rejection?
On a related, but happier note, I sold a zombie poem, “Fluffy” to Diakaijuzine this morning. Yay!
*Robert J. Sawyer added a 6th rule that I think is fabulous. That rule being “Start work on something else.”
Blog post edited in February 2014 to add a photograph.