I’m pretty sure there is not one writer out there who has never been rejected. You’ll read all the time about how Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was turned down by twelve publishing houses, or that Carrie was rejected over thirty times. Everyone is told “no” from time to time. While you’re working on perfecting your voice and building your world and developing believable characters, you’d better be giving a moment of thought to what happens after you send your manuscript out into the world. The chances are high that it won’t be accepted the first time. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll never be published. But your chances increase with the way you handle rejection.
1. Don’t take the rejection personally.
If you’re writing with the intention of selling your work, you have to remember that you are selling a product. Imagine you are in a clothing store, shopping for just the right shirt for a party you’re attending soon. You know you want red silk with black buttons, so when the sales clerk tries to interest you in a purple velvet shirt with rhinestone buttons instead, you turn it down. It wasn’t what you had in mind. The sales clerk doesn’t throw the shirt on the ground and quit her job, does she? Of course not – she brings you something else instead. Now, imagine the editor, sitting at a desk, facing two hundred stories. He can’t accept them all, just as you could not buy all the shirts in the store. It has nothing to do with you as a person. Cry if you need to, but only for the time it takes to walk from the mailbox back to the computer.
2. If the editor has offered critique of the work, take it to heart.
Now and again, an editor will like a story almost enough to buy it. When this happens, he will take time out from that huge pile of submissions to jot a quick note on your rejection letter, telling you what you could do to make the story something he might buy next time. This is a big deal – it means you nearly made it. You could read his suggestions, then tear up his letter and fling the pieces skyward while cursing his eyes for daring to tell you, the writer, how the story might be improved. Or you could hurry back to the keyboard, sit down and play with the changes he suggested. Even if the changes don’t suit you for some reason, at least now you know what sort of story that editor might be willing to pay money for. I sent a story to Talebones once, and received a lovely note from the editor, Patrick Swenson. He liked the story very much, enough to write me a note telling me it was a bit gory for his taste. Since the story depended on that aspect, I couldn’t do much toward changing it to suit him. But his note told me what NOT to send him in the future, and that was a big help.
3. Send the rejected story to someone else.
Remember that story that Talebones didn’t buy? It sold a few weeks later to Outer Darkness, and became my first semi-pro sale. If I had thrown in the towel because someone else didn’t want the story, it would still be sitting in the bottom of a desk drawer. Just because one editor said no doesn’t mean all of them will. Give the story a chance to find the right person.
4. Have something else in the works at all times.
As soon as you send out your novel or story, you should begin working on something else. It’ll make the wait time seem shorter, for one thing. For another, you’ll be more emotionally connected to the new work, so if the submission is rejected, it won’t hurt quite as much. You’ll have enough distance to see the submission without those rosy glasses we wear when a story is new.
5. Behave like a grownup, even if you’d rather pitch a hissy fit.
Last week editor Sean Wallace posted a request on his Livejournal, advising writers to refrain from responding to rejections with teasing emails detailing the story’s glorious sale to some other magazine. I can’t imagine what drives some people to do that. After all, it’s not as if they’ll never want to submit to that editor again, right? The writing world may be fun and exciting, but it’s not a kindergarten playground.
Along the same line, don’t write back to the editor telling her how stupid she is for turning you down. Again, you may someday want to try that editor again, and she is going to remember. I’m a Southern girl born and raised, and I can pitch a hissy the likes of which might make Scarlett O’Hara blush. I submitted a novel to a new writers’ competition some years ago. It did not win. When the notification arrived, I burst into tears and called a writing friend. I ranted and raved and called the judges all manner of ugly names until I was exhausted, at which point my friend calmly told me to get over it and go write something else.
Wise words, my friend.