WRITERS AT WORK, Reality of Rejection, Part 2

Greetings everyone,

Welcome to another Tuesday session of WRITERS AT WORK. Our current (and third topic) is dealing with rejection. Sandy Asher led off last week with the initial response. Here’s mine. Don’t forget, we welcome your comments and additions. Longer pieces may qualify for Guest Author spots. At the end of each month Sandy posts the entire conversation on our America Writes for Kids blog site.

Topic 3: The Reality of Rejection
Response 2: David
November 9, 2010

Sandy, I enjoyed your remarks, all the more because they sound so déjà vu-ish. I hope that someone reading this has a better story to tell than yours or mine, but early, easy success, as far as I know, is rarer than a joke book from Kirkus.

My quest for publication began as a college science major. I took a creative writing class and the professor told me I had a knack for writing. Being unfamiliar with the market (Oops, was there a class in that?), I dreamed of instant recognition, which would save a lot of time and work. My voice was so singular, so remarkable, so undiscovered that somewhere an insightful editor was going to read my story, slap his forehead, and gasp incredulously. Okay, that last part was over the top. But I’ve always wanted to write, “gasp incredulously,” and not be engaged in purple prose. Whatever, it didn’t happen.

In my hot pursuit of that head-slapping editor, I read that writers keep more than one story in circulation. Also, writers keep lists of places to send each story, on the remote chance that it comes back with its tale dragging, before rigor mortis of resolve sets in.

I followed both pieces of advice. I devoured Writers’ Market; made lists of “friendly” publishers; copied names of editors and mailing addresses; laid in a supply of 9×12 envelopes, address labels, and reassuring rolls of stamps; maintained detailed records of each story’s history of submissions and rejections; and churned out new stories with an impending sense of destiny. I took pride in having at least a dozen stories out at all times.

During the next half dozen years I averaged ten submissions per year. I averaged ten rejections. Net gain: zero. This was not the best time of my life. But it was the most necessary. Now, after dozens of books on my belt, I can laugh and say, “Ha-ha-ha, no more rejections for me!”

But, of course, that would not be true. Rejection is always with us. As Sandy points out, it’s not unusual to get turned down. There can be lots of reasons: Ignorant editor, the stupid economy, out of touch editorial board, backward sales force, malicious promotion director, clueless art director . . . Okay, sometimes maybe the story is a teeniest weeniest bit shy of the mark. These are obstacles we live with. Emerging writers may feel rejection a bit more personally than beat up old pros. At some point a writer becomes more philosophical about rejections. He or she learns to roll with them to a certain extent. They still smart and frustrate and aggravate. But editors, some claim, don’t really hate us. They work for companies that hope to show the stockholders a profit at the end of the year. How mundane.

Here’s my advice to emerging writers. Frame your first rejection letter. Choose a nice frame and hang it where you can see it every day. It may only be an impersonal printed slip but it’s still important enough to keep. The first rejection is your ticket into the fraternity of eternally optimistic folks who make up stories, write nonfiction, or pour out their hearts in poems. There is no sin in being rejected. The only sin is in quitting because the big boys kicked sand in your face.

Sandy, back to you.


18 comments on “WRITERS AT WORK, Reality of Rejection, Part 2

  1. Thanks for sharing this, David. It always kind of breaks my heart when I talk to writers who so badly want to “be a writer,” but they can’t work up the nerve to submit their work. So they’ll always be an anonymous writer, their passion and words known only to themselves.

    Rejection’s just part of the business. Yes it occasionally hurts. But it’s not personal. I wish every writer could actually work as an editor for a month, just so they’d see how much good, solid writing gets rejected. Maybe that would make it a little easier to take?

    • Hi Laura,

      Thanks for your comments. Once in Indiana I met a novelist who said she had never been rejected. At the time I was impressed. Looking back, I wonder if her parents owned a publishing house.


  2. I love your humor mixed with climbing the sucess ladder while the rejection monster tries to destroy.

    Everytime a door closed I discovered another one cracked open where I was able to sneak in. I wrote letters to the editors, opinon pieces, book reviews, a column, magazine and newspaper articles and a non-fiction book. Everytime I get a reject I spring back like an ally cat.

    Mary Nida

    • Mary Nida, speaking of doors, something else I learned early on was to follow my leads. Anytime an editor offered the slightest hint of something I might do to make my story more marketable — and it made sense to me — I jumped on it. Over time, following those leads made a difference.


  3. Just discovered your great blog, David. Some rejections have made me change to a course that led to a publishable manuscript. Early on I had a short story rejected by a magazine. They said I telegraphed the ending, so I turned it into a short chapter book which sold. That editor make me cut my favorite scene in that book, so I saved it and wrote another short chapter book, which turned into a series of three books for a different editor.

    This is still happening. I watch a luthier make a guitar for me and wanted to do a non-fiction picture book about it. My editor rejected it, but said she’d be interested in a novel that featured a luthier. I was crushed at first, but wrote the novel, and it just came out last month. Rejections aren’t always a bad thing!

    • Everyone, I want you to meet a dear friend of mine, MJ Auch. If you don’t know her work, you are in for a treat!

      Hi MJ, and thanks so much for dropping by. I especially appreciate your stories about rejections that have led to eventual success.

      I’ll be in touch with you again soon.


  4. Hi David,

    Thank you for starting my day with laughter, even though your struggle was no laughing matter.

    I also entertained thoughts of “… my voice was so singular, so remarkable, so undiscovered … slap his forhead and gasp incredulously …”

    I will frame my first rejection but around it I will also add a collage of all your encouraging comments and other notes of encouragement that I have received along the way.

    I will also print out your story and Sandy’s as a reminder to read and reread whenever I go into feeling-sorry-for-me-mode or whatever-made-me-think-this-is-publish-worthy-mode.

    David, your voice really is singular, remarkable and thank God it was finally discovered.

    I try to spring back like an ally cat with each rejection, as Mary Nida put it, but my cat does not seem to be as limber as Mary’s. Your stories will help put the limber and spring back into my cat.

    Thank you.


    • Hi Cory,

      I’m happy that you are enjoying my conversation with Sandy and finding value in it. This was Sandy’s idea and, as usual, it’s a good one. Taro Gomi wrote the book, “Everyone Poops.” Someone should write “Everyone is Rejected” for writers. Hmm, maybe it’s the same thing.


      • Greetings from Ypsilanti, MI, everyone —

        So glad to know folks are finding our behind-the-books chats helpful! As the saying goes, “You cannot win if you do not play.” Those rejection letters are clear evidence that we’re in the game. And we’ve got the guts to to take our lumps and stay in the game. Yay for us!

        Next week, I’ll be adding a few words about dealing with rejection after it happens. Just as a heads-up: My favorite word in that contest is . . . REVENGE!

        Stay tuned.


  5. Re: Woza Woza

    A feather flourishes, and trees transform into home for magical welves.

    Trees into homes! ‘Feather’ magic for wee Woznian elves.

    David, can anyone turn these thoughts into Woza Woza magic? I feel stuck.

    • Thanks, Cory. I’ve been out of pocket again today but will do my best to keep us on track later tonight or early tomorrow.


  6. David, only you can write about rejection in such a hilarious way. I submitted 3 poems to a South African poetry magazine and got rejected, this happened a month ago and kinda bummed me out but after reading this I’m determined to keep trying, thank you.

  7. Keep trying, indeed! Are we optimists or fools? 🙂 I think we can keep trying by continuing to learn, to work at our craft, to study markets carefully, and make connections with editors. Then we’ll be overnight successes!

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