Coping with Rejection

Today, Icy Sedgwick shares some simple but effective ways of overcoming that most painful of things for any writer: rejection.

There are few things guaranteed in life, but if you’ve chosen the Way of the Writer, then at some point or other, you’re sure to come across The Rejection. Whether you’re submitting stories to magazines, querying a novel, entering competitions or pitching for freelance work, then sooner or later, you’ll get some form of reply saying “Thanks, but no thanks.” It’s hard, I know, but it’s something every writer goes through. This article is aimed at short story writers, and hopefully it’ll help to take out the sting out of rejection – and help you get back into submitting.
Picture the scene. You’ve spent so much time on your masterpiece that your family have forgotten your name, and you’ve finally released it off into the world. One day, an email/letter arrives. Could it be? You open it… and the excitement falls flat when you find the dreaded rejection slip. Unless you’ve been lucky enough to get a personalised reply with feedback, you may sit there in disbelief, wondering what was wrong with the piece. Sadly, the chances are – you’ll never know.

Doesn’t Mean You’re a Bad Writer

It’s all too easy to assume that a rejection means you’re a terrible writer. I’ve had rejections and wondered if I should stop writing, and never again darken the Internet with my objectionable prose. This is a silly and quite frankly illogical supposition. Just because one editor or agent doesn’t like your work doesn’t mean no one will. Late last year, I submitted a piece of flash fiction to one magazine to have it rejected, only to submit it elsewhere and have it accepted within twelve hours. The phrase, ‘One man’s meat is another man’s poison’, springs to mind. So don’t panic. Maybe you sent the work out before it was ready. Perhaps you need a little longer to hone your craft. It’s also possible that your work wasn’t to the editor’s taste, or maybe they liked it, but it just wasn’t what they were looking for at that time. Sometimes stories are rejected simply because an editor has recently accepted something similar.

The Editor is Not Rejecting YOU

It’s also too easy to assume that the rejection is not of your work, but of you personally. Writers find it difficult to extricate themselves from their work, and sometimes take criticism of their writing as a criticism of themselves as people. It’s hardly surprising, given how much of a person goes into the act of writing. All I can say is try not to take the rejection of your work as a rejection of you – think about how many writers whose work you don’t like. Do you dislike them as people? No, you don’t even know them. It’s the same for editors and agents.

So what should you do when a piece is rejected?

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…

Resist bitching about the title online. Some editors have either their own names or the names of their publications set up as Google Alerts. They may not have told you so, but your piece may have been rejected simply because it wasn’t a good fit for the theme of their next issue, and future work may have stood a better chance. If you badmouth them, you risk blacklisting yourself for good.

Come Back to It Later

Put the story aside for a few days and work on something new. Try switching it up a little – if you normally write in first person, try third. If you normally write in past tense, try present. Come back to your rejected piece with fresh eyes (and the perspective that comes with distance) and give it another read. Can you spot any structural problems? Could your phrasing be tightened up? Have you over-used clichés that could be reworked into something more unique? If you were lucky enough to get feedback, can you see the points the editor is trying to make?

Try and Try Again

Have you got a trusted band of writer friends who can act as beta readers? Two (or more) heads are much better than one, so if they’ve looked over your piece and given you comments, then you might want to try submitting again. After you’ve made a list of possible titles, check their submission guidelines. Are they actually open to submissions? Do they have a preferred formatting style (font/size/line spacing etc.)? Do they accept multiple or simultaneous submissions? Do they have a minimum, or maximum, word count? Have you read other stories published by them? After all, your romantic epic might be perfect as it is, but it’s no good sending it to a science fiction magazine. These guidelines apply to everyone – don’t assume you’re the exception to their rule.

Submit – and Good Luck!

If you’ve done all this, then get submitting again. Just remember that your story is perfect for someone – you just have to find them!

Please share your thoughts and stories of rejection (and triumph!) in the comments section below.

Images courtesy of Sean MacEntee and Ken Gao.

Icy is a die-hard Northerner who lives and works in the north east of England. She is currently working on fiction, particularly of the dark fantasy and Gothic variety, as well as a PhD in Film Studies. You can find her weekly flash fiction over on her blog.


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