You’ve heard it before: writers need a thick skin. Rejection is inevitable. Give me a writer who has never been rejected, and I’ll show you someone who has never submitted their story anywhere. Let’s break this down to make it easy. There are different types of rejections:
1. The form letter-this is generally a piece of paper (and in my experience, sometimes a third of a piece of paper because God forbid anyone waste an entire sheet rejecting my drivel) with a message typed on it that may say: “Dear writer, thank you for considering us for your work. Unfortunately, we don’t feel this is a good fit for our magazine/publishing house/agency. Good luck in placing your work with someone else.” What it feels like they’re saying: “You suck. Don’t ever send us anything again. Ever. But please continue to buy our product.” In actuality, it may not be that they feel your writing is as alluring as dog poo. Editors are busy people. Sometimes they weed out the work they aren’t interested by using “readers,” people who go through the slush pile and pull out what they know the editor/agent is either looking for, or might be interested in. Any submission that the editor/agent will not want to read gets either recycled or placed into your SASE (you did include one, didn’t you?) with a form rejection letter. So although sometimes the form letter rejection is saying: “Listen, you aren’t good enough for us to want to work with you,” it might also be that your work, no matter how well written, really isn’t for them…which brings me to the next type of rejection…
2. The personal note rejection-I will be honest. As my writing improved, I began to get personal notes written in the margins of the form letters or in email rejections. But even then some of my email queries or manuscript requests received a: “No thanks, this isn’t for us.” Most of the time, though, editors or agents wrote a personal rejection either adding that my work was interesting and well written, or mentioning it wasn’t what they were looking for/they’d already used a similar story but to consider them for my next project. This means you are on the brink. You’ve bypassed the form rejection process and have moved on to “you finally know what the heck you’re doing” stage. Your targeting the markets correctly. You’re studying what agents/editors prefer to read and submitting to the right people. And, by gosh, you’re becoming a stronger writer! But still, you may encounter the next kind of rejection…
3. The no-show-This rejection is probably the most annoying to writers everywhere. They send out a query or story and receive no response. Not one. Even after the author sends an inquiry.Do not take this personally. Some editors and agents don’t respond if they aren’t interested. They either don’t have the man-power to handle all the work involved in sending out rejections, or they personally find it a time waster. If you received six hundred or more submissions a week, the majority of them either not well-written or unappealing, would you want to spend 60% of your day writing up rejections?Didn’t think so. Still, most writers I know find this the most annoying because they don’t know if the agency/publishing house received their query/submission. My advice? If you use snail mail, slip in a self-addressed, stamped postcard they can just toss into the mail to signify they received the work.
4. The phone call rejection-This is your best rejection ever. An agent wants to discuss your work but isn’t sure they want to commit. Or an editor of a magazine wants to see if you are willing to revise and resubmit your article. You are not there, yet, but you are close!
All right, I’ve explained the different types of rejection letters. Now let’s see where you fall. If you have only been receiving form rejection letters…no personal comments, no specific words of encouragement, you may want to take a good, hard look at your work again. I’m not talking ten form rejections…but twenty, thirty…it may well be your story isn’t commercial enough or written well enough to sell. Time to suck it up and either start again from scratch or join a fresh writers group for some new constructive feedback. If you have been receiving many personal rejections…you’re on the right track, but what is it you are doing wrong? It might be the work doesn’t have a wide audience. Or you haven’t hit the right agent/editor. Exhaust all possible opportunities, then work on a new project. As for no responses…you can’t tell much from that. But if you are receiving phone calls and no bites…you may want to consider your attitude. Are you not willing to change any of your work? Do you come off gruff or hard to deal with? Obviously, if you believe in your work and you don’t want to make suggested changes, that is ultimately your decision and I’m not going to encourage you to change your mind. After all, you know better than anyone what you are trying to achieve by telling your story. But you may wish to consider entering the self-publishing business.But again, only after you’re exhausted all other possibilities, because self-publishing can be costly and it’s not easy to market self-published work (though some people can be very successful this way).
Rejection isn’t the end of the world…or even the end of your career. In fact, everyone from Stephen King to J.K. Rowling has been rejected. But they never quit…so why should you?