By Ry Herman
Rejections hurt. They’re a blow to your confidence and can make you question your ability as a writer. But one way to lessen the sting of rejection is to see it from the other side.
I worked for a publishing company for four years, first as a manuscript reader and then as the submissions editor. What I learned about the process made it a lot easier for me to greet rejections by taking a deep breath and moving on.
At the place where I worked there were, roughly speaking, three points where a submission could be cut from consideration. Each of them taught me a reason to stay confident in my own writing.
The lesson of the First Cut – if you’re taking it seriously, you’re already better than most of what’s out there.
Do you seek out serious criticism? Do you revise your work? Have you ever cut a section you loved because it just wasn’t working the way you wanted it to? Congratulations – you’re already ahead of the game.
It was easy to tell which of the submissions we received had never seen an edit, much less an editor. There were a lot of them, more than you’d think. That was the first cut, always; the one I made when I was a reader. The pieces that had been worked on with care got a closer look, the ones that had been tossed off carelessly did not.
Whenever you’re feeling a lack of confidence, remember that just by putting in the work, you’re doing well.
Of course, plenty of people who put in the work still get rejections. Nearly all of them, in fact. So if putting in the work makes you worth a second look all by itself, why does that still happen?
The lesson of the Second Cut – it literally comes down to one person’s opinion.
As the submissions editor, I read everything that made it past the first cut, and passed some of it on while turning down the rest. How did I make that decision? Honestly, it was pretty much just based on whether I liked it or not.
I tried to make allowances for genres that were outside my main interests, or points of view I disagreed with. I did my best to be fair. But as a general rule, if it didn’t work for me, it probably wasn’t going any further. There wasn’t any committee double-checking my conclusions. There wasn’t a single other person tasked with second-guessing me once I turned something down.
And who am I? Nobody in particular. I’m just a person with the peculiar and idiosyncratic taste that any person has. There are best-sellers that I hate. There’s stuff most people yawn at that I love. It’s a simple fact that my opinion is not the be-all and end-all of judgment on anyone’s work.
When you get rejected, remember that most of the time it comes down to the unknown taste of someone you’ve never met. You have not been turned down by the collective arbiters of all literature. It was just some person.
What’s more, even if that person liked it, you might still get a rejection…
The lesson of the Third Cut – quality is not the only factor.
Not every piece I approved when I was submissions editor ended up getting published. There were a number of reasons for this, but one of the most common, and for me the most saddening, was because of purely commercial concerns.
I can still vividly remember reading a work that I thought was some of the best writing we’d ever gotten. I passed it on with a glowing recommendation. The editor-in-chief read it, agreed with my assessment, and then told me we couldn’t publish it.
We didn’t have a market for it. If we published it, the copies would lie around unsold forever. That doesn’t mean there’s no market for it anywhere, though, and I hope someday it finds its publisher and takes the world by storm.
Be aware that rejection is not always a judgment on the quality of your work, even by that one person of unknown taste. Sometimes it’s just the wrong fit for a particular publisher.
So the next time you get a rejection and wonder if your work is any good, tell yourself this:
If you’re putting in the effort, you have reason to be confident in your work.
At worst, all a rejection means is that some individual stranger wasn’t taken with it.
It’s even possible that they liked it, and the rejection wasn’t based on the quality of your work at all.
Be patient, keep working, and keep submitting.
Ry Herman is a novelist, editor, and playwright. Ry’s published plays include the children’s play The Monster, the musical Voices In My Head, and the drama Man On Dog. Ry is also the co-author of a nonfiction book about sunlight and vitamin D.