I’ve gotten a few rejections this week, and they always suck. They suck even when people tell me how many times JK Rowling and Stephanie Meyer got their million-dollar manuscripts turned down (not that I’m writing anything like Harry Potter or Twilight, but you get the point), and they suck even when I read motivational quotes on Literary Rejections until I finally feel like writing again.
Greg Daugherty said “Rejected pieces aren’t failures; unwritten pieces are” and Bo Bennett reminded us that “A rejection is nothing more than a necessary step in the pursuit of success.”
Still, I think most writers would have to agree with Isaac Asimov’s metaphor that “Rejection slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil.”
In any part of life, rejection sucks, but how we choose to respond to it is what really reveals our character. I made a goal last year of sending out a short story to two more journals every time it was rejected by one, and I stuck to that goal. For about a month. After a while, it’s impossible not to think: I’m the common factor here. It must be me, my writing, my shortcomings.
And it’s possible that it’s true. I’m not going to lie to you (or myself). But I think more often than not, literary rejection comes down to the same thing as romantic rejection: it’s not you, it’s them. Sometimes, you’re just not the one, and there’s nothing you can do about it. After all, with an agent–as with a lover–chemistry matters. Perhaps even more so. Some writers’ relationships with their agents lasted decades longer than their marriages.
Publishers, agents, literary magazines–they’re all looking for particular things. They need writers to do what they do, but there’s such a huge pool of material that wading through it becomes difficult and overwhelming, and sometimes a writer can feel like one drop of water trying to stand out from the ocean.
I started writing for The Review Review recently because I love their mission: to provide writers with reviews of literary magazines specifically designed to help them figure out who publishes what. You can’t possibly afford subscriptions to every lit mag out there, but all of them put in their submission guidelines that they want you to ‘read a few previous issues to get a feel for our style.’ TRR has already made a name for themselves among literary magazine editors as a great resource for writers, and I would highly recommend it to all of you.
So what can you do? Well, you have a few options:
- Sit around in your pajamas drinking coffee, and watching your Mail icon for the email that will change your life by saying something like, “You are the next [insert author idol] and we can’t wait to publish this story and give you [seven figure advance]”
- Print off all your rejection slips (since they’re all electronic now) and pull a Stephen King by pushing them all onto a nail in the wall until the nail gets so heavy it falls out
- Troll agents on Twitter and respond to their tweets with something like “LOL you’re so funny we would be best friends and by the way I queried you six months ago and you never responded so you must really be absorbing my work” (please, please don’t do this)
- Stubbornly press on
“There’s a word for a writer who never gives up: published.” – Joe Konrath
There are a lot of agents, such as Rachelle Gardner, who write great blogs that are encouraging as well as tough-love motivating. She offers fabulous advice on how to query, what to avoid, how to write a great author bio, etc. Don’t let a poor query letter be what stands in the way of your work getting out there.
You can also subscribe to a newsletter like Funds for Writers and get tips, testimonials, and a great list of grants, agents and publishing houses looking for unsolicited manuscripts, writer jobs, and literary prizes that are currently available.
If you have a little money to spend, Writer’s Digest offers a ton of online courses and resources for writers, as well as some free stuff on the side. I personally inhale their ‘Successful Queries’ page on a regular basis just to see what’s worked for other agents.
Heed the words of Nancy Kress: “There are two wrong reactions to a rejection slip: deciding it’s a final judgment on your story and/or talent, and deciding it’s no judgment on your story and/or talent.” Don’t stop writing, but don’t stop looking for ways you can improve either.
Most importantly: don’t stop writing. Don’t let form rejections, negative feedback, or shrill silence dry up your pen.
A. Suiter Clarke is a writer, teacher, traveler, and lover of all kinds of stories. After completing an undergraduate in Theatre, she moved to London to do a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Kingston University. While in Europe, she traveled, worked, and wrote. A lot. Experimenting with short stories, poems, and one-act plays during her studies was good fun, but her first love is the novel. She is currently seeking representation for her debut novel, and is 25,000 words into a second. Now living in Melbourne, Australia, she is a copywriter for the Law Institute of Victoria.
Amy is currently blogging her way through approximately fifty books over the year 2015. Check out www.asuiterclarke.com to participate and read her reviews.