Recently, a family friend shared a story with me from the Huffington Post about 26 publishers who got it wrong.
In other words, it was the story of 26 now wildly famous writers who endured hefty rejections earlier in their careers.
Rejection. Is it a topic to which you can relate? Stephen King collected his rejection slips on a nail until he received so many that the nail would no longer hold them. Then, he switched to a spike, and kept on writing.
Sylvia Plath, one of the country’s most renowned poets, once said, “I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.”
I shared these insights with a friend who had just undergone a pretty grisly rejection of her own. An essay she had been tirelessly working on was met with a hefty dose of harsh criticism at a writer’s conference. It made her mad. After all, she had poured a lot of work into her piece. She was determined to not let it get her down, she said. Quite the opposite: The criticism made her more determined to get that darned essay published.
The beauty of it is that rejection is a universal story among all good writers. If you haven’t encountered a snarly rejection, a “No thanks” that at least momentarily stabs you in the heart, I submit you’re not working hard enough as an artist.
I heard the story of a salesman who gloried in the numerous rejections he encountered. For every 10 or so rejections he received, he reasoned, he was met with one success. That meant that, by the time he received 100 “no’s,” he would have received 10 “yes’s.” And, 10 yes’s were all he needed to be a wild success.
How’s that for attitude?
Every time I receive a rejection for a piece – be it via a literary journal, a magazine, or elsewhere – I do a little dance. Because, each rejection is, for me, a reminder that I am at least putting myself out there.
Think about it. The only way to guarantee a “No” is to not try at all. And, you never know what doors might open if you simply give your work a chance.
When a popular writing newsletter sponsored a writing contest with the prompt “Why I Write,” I decided to give it a go. I knew the chances of winning any contest were slim but I found the topic so compelling – and I felt I had much to explore under that umbrella – that I sketched out an essay and sent it off. Guess what? It didn’t win.
However, a year later, that very same essay caught the attention of Writer’s Digest, one of the biggest writing magazines in the country. And, they bought it!
I used to keep a tally sheet next to my computer with two columns: “A” (for “Acceptance”) and “R” (for “Rejection”). I’ll give you one guess which column racked up the most strike marks.
I don’t do that anymore but I do hold on to every rejection I receive. For me, like Plath, they show me I try. And, besides, they might just make some really intriguing bathroom wallpaper someday.
Kate Meadows is a writer, editor, and writing instructor living in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Her work has appeared in Writer’s Digest, River Teeth, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and elsewhere. Additional work is forthcoming in Poets & Writers and Hippocampus. She offers manuscript critiques and coaching for writers trying to find their voice, and she leads online writing retreats and workshops on a variety of craft and creative nonfiction topics, for both adults and children. Learn more at www.katemeadows.com.
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Yes, yes. A rejection means someone actually took the time to look at my work. So maybe it wasn’t right for them, but it may be perfect somewhere else.
Thank you Kate.
Wonderful article. Best wishes.
Thank you, Pamela!
Coincidentally, last week my essay Why Do I Write? was rejected by New Oxford Review, not in a gnarly way, but suggesting it might do better as a back cover trailer for my autobiography book, because it was too personal, perhaps. I will email it to you separately.
Today, I had published, Holy Ghost & Halloween. It was edited a bit but she kept its heavy message.
Richard, I think the “Why Do I Write?” essay is something every writer should tackle. Good for you for penning that piece AND submitting it! Best of luck as you look for a home for it, and I hope the writing itself was valuable time! -Kate
A “no” is better than crickets. At least you can figure out what went wrong and try to fix it and submit somewhere else, if possible.