The other day a beginning writer on my writers’ list serve wrote that he’d just received two rejections. He explained that one agent and one editor had rejected his query for a middle grade novel. WHY!? he wondered. What was the problem? Was it the quality of the query? The idea of the novel? The sample pages he’d sent? Jeez, was this a sign that he should quit writing? The kind, generous, sensitive souls on the list serve chimed in. Rejections happen to the best of us, they said. Even the most successful writers have gotten rejections. Look at JK Rowling, they pointed out. Didn’t she get like 25 rejections before someone snapped up Harry Potter? The beginning writer was cheered up and presumably will continue to send his work out, and, (I sure hope he realizes this) get more rejections.
Rejections. There is nothing that bums a writer out more. I don’t care how long you’ve been doing this. You get that “unfortunately this story does not fit our editorial needs at this time…” letter and sometimes even the best of us can’t help spiraling into an existential pit of despair.
I got my first rejection over ten years ago. It was from Seventeen magazine when they were still publishing YA fiction. It was a form note, but scrawled on the bottom of it were two words: nice story. My first reaction was shock. They rejected ME? What were they thinking? Was it a mistake? I analyzed those two words “nice story” to the point of absurdity. If they thought it was a nice story, why didn’t they want it? What did they mean by “nice”? I cried. I questioned my decision to write. I questioned my reasons for existence. I had no list serve to buck me up. I knew no other writers. I suffered alone.
Then I sent the story out again. It was rejected once more (by Teen. Is that magazine even around anymore?) Then it was accepted by Cicada. Woo hoo. My first published story! After only TWO rejections. I was on my way, happy that the days of rejections were behind me. Ah. I was so deluded and naïve.
Looking back now, I realize this experience was the most gentle of introductions to the submission world. Because over the years I have amassed quite a collection of rejections. (I’m not one of those writers who papers the walls with them, so I can’t tell you how many). The very kindest rejections have those handwritten words on the bottom—nice story, or keep sending. (God, be thankful for those. They're truly little gifts to keep you going.) The worst rejections are not even the form notes, but the no notes. Lately, the policy of many editorial houses is to contact a writer only if they are interested, which means that most writers will receive nothing. No response. Your work simply disappears into a black hole—which I picture as some NYC editor’s desk and later her recycling bin.
Okay, this is starting to depress me. And my intent was to be uplifting to a suffering, frustrated writer soul like the Me of fifteen years ago. So here’s my advice: quit now if all you’re dreaming about is publication and awards and monetary success and movie deals and sitting on a set with Robert Pattinson who is playing your main character. BUT, if you truly love to write, keep writing. You don’t need me to tell you this or some editor either, by the way. If you’re looking for a sign from above, here it is: if after you receive your first rejection (or your 100th) you continue to write, then cheers! Writing is what you are meant to do.