Rejection. We hates it, precious, yes we does.* From Mimi in the fourth grade who declared me no longer her friend because I wouldn’t give her my new Malibu Barbie to keep, to the boy in high school who, upon hearing that I liked him, made gagging sounds in front of all his friends, to the form email that pops up three days after sending my story out. Rejection hurts.
When I started writing short stories, the logical step was to send them out to magazines in the hope someone would recognize my extraordinary genius and pay me actual money. Back then, a self-addressed stamped envelope was required with your submission. Without it, you’d spend the rest of your life in limbo, wondering what had happened to your story, because the magazine would not respond on their own dime. The worst thing, back then, was to walk to the mailbox and find a thin business envelope with your own handwriting on the outside. If you were very lucky, the form letter inside might have a scribbled note on it from the editor, offering a vague reason as to your rejection or possibly a nebulous suggestion for making the story more publishable. The other day after we finished our taxes (speaking of things that are painful) I decided to give the file cabinet a good clean-out, and along the way discovered my old file of rejection letters.
Some were absolutely impersonal form letters, which occasionally verged on being insulting. My favorite was the one that said, “An all too common reason for rejection is the obvious lack of basic English compositional skills on the part of the author.” It made me laugh because anyone who knows me can tell you that I’m a grammar geek. Not to mention I was the Tri-County Spelling Champion in 1980. I even have a trophy which my mother proudly displays! I’m inclined to think my compositional skills weren’t the problem, but who knows? A little better was the form letter with a scribble on it. I received a rejection once from a fairly well-regarded small press magazine. It was a two-inch wide slip of paper with a one line rejection typed on it, but below that, in tiny cursive, were the words Send something else.
Best, though, was the actual handwritten rejection, with a mention of why the story didn’t make it. Talebones turned me down but Patrick wrote We kept it for a second reading, but in the end it was a little too bloody for our taste. Try us with something else. Wheeee! I did send another story, which they also rejected, but again they invited me to try again. To a struggling writer, those words are bliss. Then again, the handwritten rejection can be depressing. I submitted a story about global warming to a science fiction magazine back in the mid-90’s, and the rejection was half a page of finger-shaking over my ridiculous notions and clear misunderstanding of how planetary climates function. He ended with a jibe about me hoping Al Gore would one day be president, which told me he was trying to reject my politics (as he perceived them) rather than my creative work.
Some folks believe you shouldn’t look at your rejections more than once, but I rather enjoy rereading them. It’s a look back at how far I’ve come. Anyone else have some fun rejections to share?
*Yes, in my house we often resort to speaking as fantasy characters. Come by for dinner sometime – we’re very entertaining!