Hello, Rejection, my old friend

I hate rejection just as much as anyone else. I mean what’s to like, right?  But I’m sometimes surprised how much writers’ fear of rejection can chart the course of their careers. I’ve met many talented writers who talk about publication wistfully, but when I ask where they’ve submitted, they’re sort of taken aback and say something like, “Well, I sent something to the Atlantic Monthly but after they shot me down, I thought what’s the point.”

The Atlantic Monthly? Yes, it would be exciting to publish there.   But, in the meantime, why not bring the bar down just a tiny, tiny bit and consider some of the zillions of other place that just might publish your work.  But then again, they might not. I sometimes tell my students (I love to make up numbers and statistics, so bear with me): Expect to be rejected 50 times for every acceptance. The number is probably high, but I’ve always been a part of the lets-just-be-braced-for-the-worst school of thought.  But never mind the number–the truth is if you’re going to be published, you’re most likely going to experience a good deal of rejection between now and then.  And, yes, it is a special sort of misery. And, yes, I think it’s miserable in a very special way when you’re writing about your own life.  But, avoiding that misery means most definitely avoiding the joy of acceptance and publication.

Someone recently told me that the most profound sentence they ever heard in any therapy session was this: “You can’t go through life avoiding heartbreak. Heartbreak is part of life.” And heartbreak is most definitely part of a writer’s life. But so what? Yes, you’ll be sad when your work is rejected and–if you’re like me– sob into the sofa for a while. But then you’ll get up and make yourself a cup of tea and get to work again.  There’s no rejection you can’t make it through. But, the not trying– that’s the thing I don’t think we can make it through. That’s where your spirit really can be broken.

“What we anticipate seldom occurs: but what we least expect generally happens.
—-Benjamin Disraeli

This entry was posted in Writing Tips. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Hello, Rejection, my old friend

  1. Jesus, if I had to endure fifty rejections for every acceptance, I would quit this business. I guess in that sense, I am not a "real" writer. So what do I do?Well, I have been lucky that I write stuff for which there's an eager audience. And then I got an agent, so he gets the rejections. Before I wrote books, I wrote car articles. At that time, no one knew me outside of the car community, but even then, I would not stand for 50:1 rejections. It would beat me down. I actually think my first articles were probably accepted with minimal alterations and no more than one or two rejections. Now, they weren't in something highbrow like Atlantic, but still, they got published.From that base, if I wrote something the editors didn't like, they called me and told me what they wanted, and we pretty much worked it out. I never really knew "form rejection" in magazine writing.However, I think writing fiction on spec is a whole different ball game. Luckily, I have never been disposed to try that.The best way to deal with rejection is to write a hit, whatever that means in your category. Perhaps what you wrote got lots more hits on Facebook, or lots of Letters to the Editor. Or maybe it's an actual listed bestseller. Whatever it takes. From that point, you may get rejections, but they will talk to you about them rather than send a form letter, and there is a good chance you can reconfigure and make a deal. They know you succeeded once, and they have hopes to be there for it to happen again.

  2. Theo Nestor says:

    Hey, John, thanks for weighing in.Readers: John knows what he's talking about when he says write where there's a eager audience. His first book–a memoir about his experience growing up with Aspergers– Look Me in the Eye was a big success. Here's a link to his blog:http://jerobison.blogspot.com/His next book is called Be Different and is coming out next spring.

Leave a Reply