The value of rejection

Progress in the career of writing comes in different forms.

My favourite thing is acceptance, selling a story I wrote and getting paid for it. It’s wonderful for my ego, even if it’s only moderately nice for the pocketbook. (Let’s face it, I’ve sold stories for as little as $2.00. That doesn’t keep Ampersand in catnip!)

My next favourite thing is a good rejection.

Oh, yes, there are such things. A quick rejection is good – it means you can get that story out again right away. Humour is good, too. A publication called “Postcards From Hell” – now, alas, defunct – used to reject stories with the following note:

“Thank you for sending your story ‘A Walk Around the Tree’ to ‘Postcards From Hell’. Unfortunately, it has been consigned to the Lake of Fire. Have a pleasant day.”

This always gave me a laugh, and always encouraged me to try again.

I’ve had stories rejected with a note that says, “Send more.” I had one returned in the mail with a handwritten note signed by one of the editors that said, “This one didn’t quite do it for us. Do try us again.” (As it was a market I had been wanting to crack for months, I was almost as pleased as if they’d actually bought the story. Almost.) Another rejection (for an anthology) came with this encouragement – “I’d really like to publish something of yours. I have other anthologies coming up – please watch for them and submit something.”

When a rejection comes back that tells me no more than the bare bones of “no”, I’m not always sure where, exactly, I’ve failed to hit the mark. Was my magic realism too magical? Too real? Am I writing about something everybody’s written and the editors are tired of it? Did they think I was saying something different from what I thought I was saying? And, of course, the little worm of self-doubt mutters, “Or maybe you’re just no damn’ good.” (Even if I don’t listen, the mutter is there.)

A good rejection, on the other hand, tells me that I may not be hitting the bull’s-eye, but I am somewhere near the target. That’s valuable information. It tells me that the editors liked something about the work, that they think my work could be a good fit for their magazine, in spite of the fact that this particular piece was not. It’s encouraging and uplifting, and it makes me like the publication and the editors for their obvious good taste in liking my work.

One of the reasons I’m writing about this today is that this afternoon I got an acceptance from a publication which has turned down three stories of mine, but turned them down so encouragingly that I kept on sending stuff. Today they told me they loved that fourth piece, that it was awesome, and they wanted it.

So today, because of an acceptance, I’m thinking, quite happily, about rejection. Good rejections help you build on your work and hone your submissions. Perhaps next time, even if you don’t hit the bull’s-eye, you’ll get closer. One day, if you’re rejected often enough by people who do it well, you’ll be right on target.

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