5 Reasons Rejection Letters are Actually Awesome

Okay, so I’m aware that I’ve been a serious downer for the last two days. ‘Tis the curse of not blogging for a time – all the serious, angsty things bounce around my head and come out in a burst, instead of getting nicely spaced out between more palatable topics.

Today we’re going to talk about something fun: REJECTION.

It’s been on my mind a bit this week, ‘cause I’ve been finishing short stories and sending them out blind for the first time in…well, shit, about four years. As part of this process, I’m getting back into the swing of checking markets, putting together submission lists, tracking submission details, and all that shit. That means, in the very near future, I’m going to start getting all kinds of rejection letters, and I am fucking PSYCHED.

And,yeah, yeah, I know, writers aren’t supposed to be excited by rejection. A lot of writer-types love the Sturm und Drang that comes when a rejection letter rolls in. They talk about how much it hurts or stings or how disappointed they are that an editor said no. They like to mourn the lost opportunity. They like to…shit, I don’t know, it never made much sense to me. I’m a writer. I get rejected. It’s part of the job.

So instead let’s talk about the reasons having a short story rejected is actually TOTALLY FUCKING AWESOME.

ONE: A MARKET THAT WAS OTHERWISE CLOSED TO YOU IS NOW OPEN

Most short-story markets that are worth getting your work into aren’t particularly open to seeing more than one story from a writer at a time. This means, once you’ve submitted a story there, you don’t get to submit another one until they say yay or nay to your current submission.

A rejection means that an exciting new goddamn business opportunity has just opened up, ‘cause an editor that wasn’t interested in looking at my next story is suddenly open to the possibility.

This is fucking awesome.

Now, one thing that I’ll grant, this feels less awesome when you’re at the beginning of your short story writing phase and you’ve got, like, one or two short stories doing the rounds. But if you’re a writer who produces a lot and has, say, eight or ten or twenties stories ready to send out, you start edging toward the situation where you’ve got more stories ready to go than there are good markets, especially since there are damn fine places to be published that can take a really long time to get back to you.

When you’ve got a lot of work ready to submit, rejection isn’t a bad thing – it’s a chance to get the next story into circulation.

TWO: A STORY THAT WAS IN THE WRONG PLACE CAN NOW GO TO THE RIGHT PLACE

Stories get rejected for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with their quality. Sometimes it’s ‘cause the editor has just bought a run of stories with a similar theme. Sometimes it’s ‘cause they don’t think the story will be a good fit with their market. Sometimes, lets be honest, the story just wasn’t to their taste.

Regardless of what’s written on the rejection letter itself, a story rejection is basically the acknowledgement that, hey, buddy, you submitted the wrong kind of story. Now you can go and find the right place for it, and, oh look, the market that was otherwise closed to you is now open, so you get another shot of submitting the right kind of story to the editor who just said no.

THREE: THIS IS YOUR GODDAMN JOB NOW AND YOU ARE GODDAMN ROCKING IT

Writers get rejected a lot. I knew that going in. My job isn’t to rail against the rejections, but to focus on the things that are actually important to my half of the writer/publisher equation. I produce the best work I can and put it in front of editors who may be interested in buying it. If they say no, I put it in front of a different editor. That’s my job as a writer. As you may note, it’s very low in certainty. It’s very high on hearing the word “no.”

Measuring success by the number of publications is a mugs game, ‘cause I’ve got no control over that. Measuring success by the number of submissions made is entirely up to me, and every rejection letter offers the opportunity for some forward momentum.

FOUR: IN THE WORST CASE SCENARIO, YOU’VE JUST BEEN SAVED FROM LOOKING LIKE AN ARSE

I’ve been pretty fortunate in that I’ve sold the vast majority of the stories I’ve written. The handful of stories that haven’t sold – and let me be clear, we’re talking stories that have been rejected by 30+ editors, at least – well, let’s just say there are *reasons* people kept saying know, and in retrospect I’m pretty thankful to said editors ‘cause they’ve kept me from putting out work that wasn’t ready for prime time.

These weren’t necessarily bad stories, necessarily, but they were definitely…lackluster.

I can handle bad. Bad is the risk that inevitably comes from trying to do something beyond your abilities. Bad is the brother of ambition, in many respects; there is often the nugget of something interesting in the heart of every truly bad story.

But the lackluster ones? The dull ones? The ones you look at and go, well, I wish that were better, sometimes you’re just glad enough people said no to keep those stories from going out.

FIVE: ‘CAUSE, ONE DAY, YOU’LL SHOW THEM ALL

There is a great Neil Gaiman quote about rejection. It does a little something like this:

It does help, to be a writer, to have the sort of crazed ego that doesn’t allow for failure. The best reaction to a rejection slip is a sort of wild-eyed madness, an evil grin, and sitting yourself in front of the keyboard muttering “Okay, you bastards. Try rejecting this!” and then writing something so unbelievably brilliant that all other writers will disembowel themselves with their pens upon reading it, because there’s nothing left to write.

Source: Neil Gaiman’s Journal

And truthfully, I do kind of thrive on being told no. My best writing has usually come out of me trying to prove a point. The more I hear no, this isn’t our kind of thing, the more invested I become in proving that, well, just this once, maybe it is.

Accept my stories enough and I get….well, kind of lazy.

Reject me enough times and I’ll up my game and come out swinging.

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