Veteran writers know rejection is a part of the job. They even understand the various reasons for rejection and ways to cope with it. Some veteran writers have even numbed themselves to rejection, having gone through it enough times to not even feel the slightest sting. Why? They’re still confident of themselves – and their work. They know that rejection isn’t a reflection of how good or bad they are. It’s just a matter of finding the right home for their work.
This is one lesson many new writers have a hard time learning. Often, it comes after a series of angst-ridden days of moping, hand wringing, and self-doubt teetering on the brink of defeat. How could they be rejected, they wonder. Aren’t their words good enough to get the editor to make an exception?
Actually, no. See, the rejections have nothing to do with you, your writing or even how “far” you’ve come as a writer. Sometimes, it’s just the wrong market. Or the editor doesn’t feel good about taking it on right now. Or maybe it’s because there’s already that very same idea on the table.
These are just a few reasons why writers get rejected. There are too many reasons to list them all here. Having been an editor myself, though, I can tell you that I know what it’s like to be in those shoes – and why work gets rejected.
Here are some of the reasons why I have rejected work:
It wasn’t suitable for the market.
When I was a poetry editor at Skyline E-Magazine, we got submissions of poetry protesting the war in Iraq. The Editor-in-Chief’s policy was to keep the zine neutral, so I had to politely reject the material. The same went for religious poetry. And with my E-zine, I’ve had to reject material that wasn’t family-friendly (although I did end up goofing on that policy once).
It was the wrong kind of submission.
You don’t send short stories to the poetry editor or articles about crafts to an E-zine for writing parents. I’ve heard of writers submitting work based only on a magazine’s name. Guess what? Sometimes, the name can be deceiving. The Bear Deluxe, for example, isn’t a magazine about bears or bear hunting. Read the guidelines and find the right person to submit your work to.
The writer provides no contact information or their emails bounce.
If I respond with an acceptance to a submission and that email bounces, I’ll have to reject it. Sometimes, I just don’t have the time to chase down a writer who submitted something I could use. Alternatively, some writers fail to submit their material with any contact information at all. I got one submission from a writer who included only their first name. When I replied asking for their last name and a bio, I never heard back from them. Their work ended up in the trash bin. Submit your material using a valid email address, include the email address on your submission, include your full name and, if the magazine/E-zine is a paying one, include your mailing address so you’ll get a nice check in the mail. (I always appreciate it when a writer includes their mailing address on their submissions to my E-zine; it saves time.)
These are the main reasons why I’ve had to reject writers. Sometimes it’s just as much the writer’s fault than it is the editor’s. Writers who are too lazy to do their homework, put together a professional submission and try to play email-tag with editors stand a lousy chance of getting published. And they’ll have no one to blame but themselves.
Here are some other rejection-related realities a new writer should know:
Sometimes you won’t get a response.
Some new writers think that editors/agents/publishers have all the time in the world to read their email or snail mail. Actually, they don’t. The reality is, your submission is probably among the hundreds of other submissions they have received – in one day. And they still have hundreds of other submissions to wade through. To save time, some of these editors or agents have picked up the habit of not responding at all. Yes, writers often complain that it would only take a minute for the rejecting editor to scrawl “no thanks” across their query then pop it in the SASE. But the truth is, even if they did do that, the writer would still throw a fit. “I took the time to put together a nice query for you; can’t you put together a nice rejection for me?” they would call the editor to scream into his ear. Editors can’t win the response battle. They’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. So, most of the time, they just don’t. Look on their Web site or read their guidelines carefully to see if they respond to a rejection. Often, if they don’t, they will tell you. Accept this and if you don’t hear from them after their response period, move on.
This brings me to another pointer:
Do not, under any circumstances, bug the editor.
If they say to submit by email or snail mail, do this then let it go. Sure it’s a good idea to follow up or even include a SASP for them to check off if they got the submission. But if you pick up the phone and start screaming at them or call them every day to find out if they read your submission yet, don’t count on an acceptance. In fact, don’t count on doing business with that editor or agent ever again, because this kind of nagging will reflect badly on the kind of writer you are.
The waiting period can be long – and frustrating.
I didn’t get a request for my manuscript from a publisher until a year after I sent my query. By this time, I’d completely forgotten about that company; I was too wrapped up with other writing projects and rejections to stress out over that one query to them. I’m not suggesting you “submit and forget,” but what I am saying is that you need to keep yourself occupied after you submit your query or manuscript. Don’t agonize over that one query or submission. You have to wait out the response period. I know it’s hard; this is your baby they are poking at, after all. This is your dream, your rock. Something you spent years working on to perfection. But you need to stay focused on one thing: Your career as a writer. And to stay a writer, you need to keep writing. Even after you submit something, you need to keep writing. If that’s your only book you’ve sent out there, start working on the next one. If you’ve submitted your very first poem, write some more. You’ll need that extra work to stay afloat. And if your book is a series, they’ll want a sneak peek at the next book. The only way to survive the waiting is to write.
Nothing can be that new.
I often advise new writers I come in contact with against including phrases such as “this idea will knock your socks off!” or “my book will take the novel world by storm” in their queries. The editor and agent’s job is to read. That means they read a lot. Chances are pretty darn good they’ve seen your idea before, or they’ve seen that kind of idea. No matter how original you try to make your work, there’s a strong possibility it will resemble something they’ve already seen. Your best bet is to keep your query humble; don’t promise to blow the editor away with your submission or redefine an entire genre. Stick to the query’s purpose: Telling the editor or agent what your work is about. The only thing about yourself to include are your credentials. That’s it.
Rejection can be good for you.
Believe it or not, it can actually be a good thing for a new writer to experience rejection. This is the point where the real writers are made. You learn from rejections, you might even laugh at them, and you’ll ultimately figure out a way to work around them. If you’re going to give up after only one rejection, it’s probably just as well; a lot of the realities of being an author or published writer can be just as frustrating or trying. If one rejection is going to shoot you down from pursuing your dream, then maybe it’s a sign you won’t have thick enough skin to withstand the rest of the road ahead. But if not, then congratulations. You’re strong enough to get past this downside. You believe in yourself and your dreams to succeed. Most importantly of all, you believe in your abilities to be a good writer. If you have that, you’ll definitely get published soon enough.
Don’t give up. As hard as it is to accept, rejection happens to every writer. It’s just a fact of the writing life. Rejection happens. If you want to get published, if you want to succeed as a writer, you have to be able to withstand rejection. There is no secret to being a rejection-free writer. There is no formula to follow. If you really want to make strides as a writer, if you really want to see your book in print, learn how to cope with rejection. Accept that rejection happens – and keep trying, anyway.
About Dawn Colclasure
Dawn Colclasure is the author of five books, among them BURNING THE MIDNIGHT OIL: How We Survive as Writing Parents and 365 TIPS FOR WRITERS: Inspiration, Writing Prompts and Beat The Block Tips to Turbo Charge Your Creativity. Her articles, essays, poems, book reviews and short stories have been published in regional and national newspapers and magazines, as well as online. She lives and writes in Oregon with her husband and children. Dawn Colclasure is a writer who lives in Oregon. Her Web site is at http://dmcwriter.tripod.com/.