By Monica Valentinelli
If you’re reading this post, I’m guessing you’ve already dealt with rejection. You didn’t get the job or raise you wanted. That person you’re interested in? They don’t feel the same way about you. Ugh. Right? Why, then, does the rejection of a short story or a novel feel so terrible? Why does that kind of rejection hurt just as bad — if not worse?
Rejection is a funny thing, because it’s primarily tied to your emotions and how you handle them. Just like there’s no One True WayTM to tell a story, there isn’t “one” method for dealing with rejection because you know yourself best.
The good news is that you’re not alone. Rejection is a big part of being a writer. So, today I’m sharing some insights I’ve learned over the years:
Practice dealing with rejection. Get feedback on your drafts.
Sure, you may be writing and submitting right now. But, are you really listening to feedback before you send out a story? Are you doubling down and getting defensive, because a beta reader didn’t “get” what you wrote? Once your words are in someone else’s hands, you cannot be by their side explaining every sentence. Your story needs to stand on its own, and the perspectives of others are there to help you publish your best work. The more stubborn you get, the more your story will suffer, and the greater the chance it’ll be rejected.
Learning how to deal with comments before your story is published can help you mitigate rejection and be less stubborn, too. At the end of the day, you want to submit your best work! Don’t be afraid to take the time you need to revise and polish before sending it out.
The rejection doesn’t mean you, the author, are worthless.
There are hundreds of reasons why you’ll get a rejection. Shifting publication schedules. Budgeting concerns. An editorial change. Bad timing. A similar work was just purchased. A buy-out. The work isn’t a good fit for that publisher. On and on and on. There are 1,000 reasons why your story gets rejected, and there’s an excellent chance it has nothing to do with you as a person.
Yes, it can be very hard to separate out the difference, and that burden is often on you. Even more frustrating are those times you’ve been rejected for undisclosed or personal reasons. Your instinct might be to hit back hard, because you’ve been hurt. Say it with me: nothing good comes out of confronting an agent, editor, publisher, etc. following a rejection, because they’ve already made their decision. If they don’t want to buy your manuscript or work with you, find someone who does.
Rejections absolutely suck — no matter the reason. How you handle rejection, however, will not only affect your future publication chances, but your relationships as well. It is natural to be angry and upset while realizing rejections are just part of the biz. Over time, as you continue to write and submit, you’ll learn how to be more resilient, too. Be gentle and kind to yourself! We all go through this.
Rejection hits harder if you only write one manuscript.
If your heart is set on being published, a rejection can be earth-shattering. Here’s the thing, though: the market will always be uncertain, and the publishing industry will always be in flux. There is only one constant. You.
The surest way to get published is to help yourself by writing, revising, submitting. Rinse, repeat. Over and over again. As soon as you hand in that one story? Channel that frustration. Start a new story! Submit the old one to another agent or editor! Keep at it! Be persistent!
You will be rejected if you think the guidelines don’t apply to you.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard horror stories from agents, editors, etc. that start and end with: “Why didn’t they follow the submission guidelines?” And I get it. I do. You believe your story has potential and it needs to be published. That’s great! You know what increases your chances of getting that story published? Following the submission guidelines.
Look. If you can’t be bothered to find out what types of books an agency wants to represent, why should they take a chance on you? If you don’t take the five, ten minutes to format your story correctly or change your filename per a site’s instructions, then how can an editor expect you to respond to edits?
Submission guidelines, besides being in place to facilitate the volume of submissions publishers get, are a test. Ignore them at your own peril.
If your work is rejected, it’s okay feel that pain. Don’t take it out on other people.
Say you’ve been rejected, and you don’t feel you should have been. Okay. Well, first things first: do not send an email until after you’ve cooled off. Rant. Scream. Yell. But, do it privately and among trusted friends. Rage, anger, jealousy… We may all feel those emotions, but expressing them publicly or lashing out is not a good look for you — especially long-term.
Editors are not your enemy. Agents are not evil gatekeepers. Publishers are not the devil or “the ManTM” to fight, either. They want what you want: a great book! If you feel the need to send a response, err on the side of brief and polite. You may not have any further correspondence, depending upon the circumstance, but I’ve found you cannot go wrong by being professional.
There are many types of rejection, and they’re not all bad.
When you’ve got a clear head, revisit the rejection. What comments did the editor take the time to make? Was it a form letter or a handwritten note? A form letter won’t tell you much, but I usually take that as a sign they’re not interested. Sometimes, an editor will flat out say: “If you address these concerns, please feel free to revise and resubmit.” Other times, it might not be as clear. In those instances, I’d send a polite, clarification email with the understanding that editor may not get back to you right away.
By finding a way to work with them, you’ll set aside the feeling that they’re out to get you. If they’re sending you comments, that feedback means they went out of their way to tell you why they said no. That’s a good opportunity for you to revise and resubmit!
I hope these insights will help you deal with rejection. It stings no matter how much experience you have, but it is a big part of being a writer.
Monica Valentinelli writes stories, games, essays, and comics in her Midwestern studio. She’s an artist, a former musician of 20+ years, and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Creative Writing program who now writes full-time. Monica is the developer for Hunter: the Vigil Second Edition, and was the lead developer/writer for the Firefly RPG books based on the Firefly TV show by Joss Whedon. Her new books, The Gorramn Shiniest Dictionary and Language Guide in the ‘Verse and Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling, are available wherever books are sold. For more about Monica, visit www.booksofm.com.