Coffee and keyboard with text overlay: How I handled rejection from editors: Then and now

How I Handled Rejection From Editors: Then and Now

I got another rejection email: Thank you for submitting, but we are going to pass on this one. Please submit again soon!

Then

Rejection is part of being a writer – of being a creative, so the prevailing advice is to get comfortable with rejection. I always felt like I was comfortable with it. I don’t burst into tears or anything when I receive one, which of course meant I have a healthy response. However, for some reason, submitting something I had written and was rejected couldn’t be sent to another magazine. Once it was rejected once, it was tainted. It could no longer be sent out again; it expired.

So, I must start over. Go back to the blank page and pour something out of my mind and through the keyboard. Something that I can be proud of and feel good about sending out into the world – after I work up some courage.

I read about people who sent their manuscripts to multiple places before being published. I knew people who sent their manuscripts to multiple places before being published. Even magazines have in their instruction that you can submit to more than one outlet at the same time. Yet, none of that applied to my work. It wasn’t about the rejection or the non-existent expiration date. It was about me and my perfectionism and my fear.

One day, I selected a random seat in a workshop at a writer’s conference. Our expectant faces looking around the room accessing the abilities of those beside us. Everyone else in that room deserved to be there because they were real writers. I, on the other hand, was just playing at being a writer. I had not been traditionally published.

A woman came in and sat next to me. She started chatting and I cannot remember most of our conversation. The only thing I remember, and still lingers in my brain and rises to the surface anytime I try to talk myself out of submitting something: She asked, “What is the worst thing that will happen if you submit?”

Well, of course the worst thing would be that they would say no, which I had already heard a few times. The rejection wasn’t the end of the world. It was just a no from them. That doesn’t mean everyone will say no.

It finally clicked inside my head that I was avoiding success, avoiding putting myself out there because the rejections were affirming the limiting belief that I was not good enough. Then I would build up my confidence enough to try again (with a new piece) and then get rejected and realize I was wrong. I am not good enough so I should just give up.

Because I didn’t have a strong emotional reaction to a rejection, just slight disappointment, I didn’t realize I was thinking these thoughts unconsciously. It seemed like it was a healthy response to the fact that someone didn’t accept my piece. But it wasn’t. I was using my sporadic submissions to reinforce what I thought I already knew. While the few people who I shared my work with often enjoyed it, they were biased. They were friends and therefore had to like my writing.

Editors were experts and a better, more objective judge of my skill. If they rejected my writing, then it was proof that my friends were lying to me, and I was right – I really don’t write that well.

Two things about this thinking:

  1. The only way to improve and be published is to keep writing and submitting.
  2. I don’t have to be a great writer to connect with others (several examples come to mind), and so I have to ask myself if I am more concerned with connecting or technically great.

The more I write, the more I will improve my writing technic, but if I don’t share my art, I will never connect with others. To connect, I need to get comfortable with sharing things that, in my mind, may not be great, but they have value.

Even when they are rejected by an editor. Rejection is subjective and includes a lot of factors. It may be the wrong market. It may not fit their theme. Their reading window might be closed. The piece might not have come to them at the right time (I truly believe that sometimes a story comes to us at the wrong time because I have picked up a book only to put it back on the shelf unfinished. Then months or years later, I pick it up again and cannot put it down until the last page is turned).

A rejection doesn’t mean my piece is bad. It doesn’t mean I am not good enough. It doesn’t mean I don’t have what it takes. It only means my piece did not find a home where I submitted it.

Now

After talking to the woman I met in the workshop, I started resubmitting the same piece to other places. Then I put up other barriers to keep me from submitting. It was time consuming to find new places to submit, to format the piece to their standards, to write a bio that works for them, and do this repeatedly until I finally get a yes.

To help keep me on track and to keep submitting, I created a couple of things that would make it easier. I created a spreadsheet to keep an inventory of all my writings and another to track where they were submitted. Submittable is great at keeping track of pieces submitted within its program, but there were a few that I emailed directly to a contact person.

You can sign up for my super-secret page for a free download of the tracker I use, plus lots of other goodies.

I also created a bio sheet. This sheet has several different bios of varying lengths and styles, including ones written in first person and third person. This tool allows me to just copy and paste the bio that fits the requirements of the submission, so I don’t have to come up with something new every time.

I still don’t submit as often and I could/should (I hate it when I should myself!), but I am submitting more frequently, and allowing the same piece to be resubmitted several times. And, I no longer give up on my pieces so easily. I believe in them so they will find a home eventually.

What keeps you from submitting your work?

I want to hear from you!

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