Some people write for their own enjoyment, which is great. Others write for publication, which means dealing with rejection. Lots of it. Like, far more rejections than acceptances. Given the sheer volume of submissions they receive, editors and agents have to reject most of what they receive, even when it’s awesome.
Most rejections come in generic form: “Thank you for your interest, but this piece does not meet our current needs. We wish you luck placing it elsewhere.” More personalized rejections with specific critique are a good thing — but it doesn’t always feel that way, especially in the beginning. Being told that your main character is unlikable can feel like a personal attack, when really it’s an opportunity to make the story better.
Every writer who’s sent out submissions has a few stories about the “WTF” rejections. Like the agent who objected to my “main character’s Lesbian issue” (yes, she capitalized it). Or the one, back in the prehistoric era of snail mail, who wrote, “You could try workshopping this poem, but in its present form it is cliched and unoriginal” — on the outside of the return envelope. (I resisted the temptation to write back when the same poem, unaltered, won $50 elsewhere. Publishing really is very subjective.)
And (despite some of my fantasy suggestions below), it’s unwise to ever respond to a rejection. The editor who loves your next story won’t remember that they passed on your last one. Unless of course you sent them a stinging email calling them “an infected boil on a troll’s butt, who wouldn’t know great literature if all nine muses used it to kill them with paper cuts.”
So, for those contemplating taking the plunge, here is my unofficial list of ways to handle rejection:
Reread the rejection letter. Try to find some unexamined nuance in Thank you for your interest.
Google the editor relentlessly, looking for evidence of substance abuse, felonies, inappropriate photos, divorce filings, lawsuits, rumors, fashion crimes, and any other evidence of shoddy judgment.
Use the editor’s name for a new entry in the Urban Dictionary.
Research untraceable poisons. Use them to coat the darts you throw at a picture of the editor.
Send roses to the editor with an effusive note thanking them for accepting your piece, hoping they’ll get confused and think they actually did.
Spread rumors that the publication is about to go out of business.
Read other items that were accepted by the same editor. Comb through them for flaws. Write indignant letters to the publication, demanding to know how they could print such junk.
Doubt your worth as a writer. Doubt your worth as a human being. Suspect that the creation of the cosmos was a mistake, since it resulted in your existence.
Shred the manuscript. Realize that doesn’t matter when you still have it on your hard drive. Take a hammer to the hard drive. Panic and call a specialist to restore the computer.
Call your therapist.
Frame the editor for embezzlement, plagiarism, adultery, and/or treason. Alert authorities, and then try to have incriminating conversations with the editor in places that are likely to be wiretapped.
Re-re-read the rejection letter. Look for evidence that the editor is secretly in love with you and can’t publish your work because it would be too painful to be that close to you.
Write a letter. “Dear Editor: Thank you for your interest in not publishing my story. However, after careful consideration I have decided that your publication will not go in a different direction. I wish you the best of luck in not publishing someone else’s piece.”
Make any needed edits to the piece, cross your fingers, and send it out again. And keep writing.
Cross posted at Daily Kos.