Rejection is the toughest part of professional writing. If you’ve been in this business longer than a week, you’ve undoubtedly received the dreaded Form Letter of Doom™. Dear so-and-so, it starts, thank you so much for your interest in our publication. Though we found your article/novel interesting, we regret to inform you that at this time it is not right for us…
And that’s it. You toss the letter, lean back, and ruminate. What happened? How could something you were confident enough in to spend months (or possibly years) developing not be good enough for publication? Disbelief turns to doubt. And like that damn earwig from Wrath of Khan, it bores its way into your brain and sets up shop. Self-pity rents the room upstairs, making you reexamine your skills as a writer and inspiring less-creative endeavors like watching a 24-hour marathon of Cheaters. Or so I’ve heard.
Rejection will always be the toughest part of what we do because it causes us to question what we do. It takes us out of the safety of our offices and reminds us that our words are subject to scrutiny. It assigns value, or lack of it, to our passion. Someone out there who has been in the industry longer than you has decreed that you suck, and should never write again – at least, that’s how it feels.
So how do we beat it? My prescription is tripartite: you beat it by accepting that it happens to every writer, finding humor in it, and learning from the experience.
There is not a single working writer who hasn’t received enough rejection letters to wallpaper their house with. When I was in college my entire room was literally plastered with form letters from every magazine, publisher, and agent who rejected me. It’s the cost of doing business, and accepting that it’s going to happen takes away its gravitas. You will be rejected – a lot – but so was Stephen King (side note: read On Writing for some great perspective on what writers go through while trying to break in). Laughing it off and moving on is the key to keeping your sanity.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn from these rejections. The people sending these letters are professionals, so chances are there’s improvement that can be made on your end. Ask yourself why you may have been rejected, and what you can do to improve your chances next time. Was your pitch brief and impactful? Was your manuscript appropriate for that particular publisher? Was your sample as polished as possible? Be brutally honest with yourself, as the answers will help you get more positive results next time. Most importantly, keep working on your craft. If you asked the best writers in the world if they felt they were any good, they’d all tell you pretty much the same thing: “No, but I’m working on it.”
We can all be better. We are never “ready.” There will never be a day where I don’t try to learn a new word or improve my prose. It’s this never-ending search that keeps us humble and hungry. I choose to let rejection motivate me instead of beat me down. And even though I don’t have the wall anymore, I know that every one of those letters is partly responsible for where I am today.