That’s a common fear for new writers. And it’s an understandable one. You put your heart and soul into a story. You spend precious free time writing it, perfecting it, and reading it over and over until you’re blue in the face.
And you just know it’s the greatest story ever told.
But in the back of your mind, you still have that fear. What if you’re wrong? What if it’s not the greatest story ever written? What if you build up the courage to send it off to Asimov’s and they think it sucks?
How can you live with such shame?
Well, the answer is simple. You don’t have to live with any shame, and there is really none to be found. The very worst thing that happens with a properly submitted manuscript is this: The editor glances it over, opts to decline, sends you a form letter, and forgets you exist.
And that’s it. You live to write another day.
So now that we’ve covered the worst case, let’s talk about what good can come out of it.
You see, you don’t have to view a rejection letter as rejection at all. What it really is is an opportunity to learn and improve. It provides a vital type of feedback that you won’t get from a critique group or writing partner.
Rejections are an important part of the writing process because what you can learn from a rejection will help you become a better writer.
So with that said, here are Five Things a Writer Can Learn from a Rejection Letter.
1. Every single writer in the world has received dozens of rejection letters–or more.
This is the most import thing to remember. If you plan to be a writer, you have to not only accept the fact that you will receive rejections, but you need to expect to receive them. It’s part of the learning process. In Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, he talks about how when he first started writing he would nail his rejection letters to the wall. The stack of rejection letters outgrew the nail before he received his first acceptance letter.
And Stephen King is hardly the only one. Every writer starts at the bottom. It takes a long time and your own stack of rejection letters to get that first acceptance. My first short story acceptance came after 14 rejections. My second came after 10 more. But that’s not the fun part. The fun part is that it took no less than 55 more rejection letters before I sold my third short story.
I’ll tell you this: If there was ever a time I felt like quitting, it was during that time. But I stuck it out. And if that wasn’t a lesson in endurance, I don’t know what is. Actually, I do. It’s called “querying for an agent” but that’s a story for another day.
So back to the topic at hand…
2. It’s nothing personal.
Trust me, no editor is singling you out and saying “I’ll show him. I’ll reject his story, stomp out his dreams, and spit on his grave!” In fact, they aren’t even paying attention to who you are. That might be a bit harsh, but most editors are looking at one thing and one thing only: your story. Agents, likewise, are looking at one thing as well: Can they sell your book?
This brings up another point. The publisher or agent is not rejecting YOU. They are simply passing on your story or query. This says nothing about you, or your writing. It simply means that that particular story wasn’t right for them at that particular moment.
3. It doesn’t even mean your story is bad.
Why are they turning down your story? It could be for a thousand different reasons. Sure, it could be that the quality of the story isn’t up to par, or the plot isn’t original enough. It could be that the characters are too one-dimensional, or that the setting isn’t descriptive enough. It could be that the writing is flat, or you use too many adverbs.
But the rejection could also come for dozens of other reasons, none of which reflect the quality of your story. Maybe it’s told in the first person and the editor just doesn’t like first person narratives. Maybe the agent just got done taking on a project involving Nazi UFOs hiding in Antarctica, so she can’t represent your novel about Nazi UFOs hiding in Antarctica because she doesn’t want to flood the market.
Another thing to remember is the sheer volume of submissions magazines and agents receive. Most professional-paying markets are able to accept less than one percent of the submissions sent to them. Due to the fact they can only publish such a limited number of stories, they are constantly forced to turn down quality stories. Even token paying sites like Theme of Absence might only accept one out of ten submissions.
So your story might not suck…
4. But a rejection does give you the opportunity to make your story better.
Even though a rejection doesn’t necessarily mean a story is bad, it still might be. Take the rejection as a challenge to improve the story or tighten up your query letter. If you receive any feedback with the rejection, take it to heart. If the feedback makes sense and would not hurt the overall theme of your story, really consider incorporating the suggestions.
I also recommend that you don’t send a story to another market immediately after receiving a rejection. Read it over again. Consider why it might have been rejected and be absolutely certain it doesn’t need any revisions before submitting it elsewhere.
There is no reason to rush out and resubmit it. Run it through a critique group or have a buddy look it over for grammar errors. And when you do resubmit it, make sure you’ve done your research and you’re sending it to a publication that you really believe is a good fit for it.
And finally, the most important thing to learn from a rejection letter…
5. Rejection is the first step to success.
If you’re receiving rejection letters, do you know what that means? It means you’re finishing short stories. If you’re sending out queries, it means you’ve finished a novel. It means that you, and you alone, are taking the steps you need to take in order to follow your most important dream.
It’s really awesome, if you think about it. You want this, and you are doing exactly what you need to be doing. You’re getting your stories out there. Eventually you will get that email. The one you have to read three times over just to be sure the “We would like to publish this” isn’t a mistake.
And then you’ll realize that all of those rejections were worth it.
I’d love to hear some success stories from some other writers out there who made it through the slush pile alive after receiving a stack of rejection letters, so if you’ve got one, feel free to leave a comment.