Writing Life #8: Rejection!

It’s a word and a sensation that all authors are familiar with. I’ve been thinking about rejection lately for a couple of reasons.

One of them is The Monster (a.k.a. The Book That Will Kill Me). I’m not entirely sure that anyone will want to publish this thing, which means racking up yet another rejection in the files for yours truly.

Yes, published authors get rejections, too. Rejection is an ever-present ghost haunting the Writing Life. Don’t think for a moment that your first “yes” means the death of “no.” Whether or not you’re published, there’s no guarantee of acceptance. Ever. Last year, I decided to try my hand at a picture book. I had been carrying an idea for a story around for a few years and it just felt like time to give it a shot. So I worked on the script and gave it to my agent, who sent it off to various folks in the picture book industry. The result? A resounding, crashing wave of “Uh, no, thanks” from all and sundry.

I’m a lot more blasé about rejection these days (as you can probably tell) because I have that luxury. With five books on the shelves and six more under contract, my accept-to-reject ratio has tilted enough to the good that I feel…not confident, per se… Maybe “cautiously not pessimistic” is the right term. I never, ever assume that something I write will be published, but I don’t feel quite as defeatist about it as I once did.

Another reason that I’ve been thinking about rejection is that I just received a rejection the other day…for a short story I submitted SIX YEARS AGO.

Now, long response times are legendary in this business. But still — this is a story I submitted to a magazine more than a year before I sold my first novel, and they’re just getting around to rejecting it! Better yet, the only reason I even heard from them is because the magazine is shutting down. So I imagine some poor intern was tasked with going through the slush and the unanswered pile and sending out form e-mails letting everyone know that the magazine is ceasing publication, so there will be no room for your story, so sorry. (Best of all: There’s a brief postscript to the e-mail saying that they “enjoyed reading” my story, citing the title. This raises new questions for me: Are they saying this to everyone? Or would my story have been accepted six years later if only they could, you know, stay in business? And did they enjoy reading it recently, or six years ago, and they’re just getting around to telling me now? Or — more likely — did they append this postscript to every e-mail, to give it that personal touch? Enquiring minds want to know!!!)

Back when I was submitting stories and novels and other blather for publication, I used to keep a file of every rejection I received. Once I started submitting electronically, this stopped because it seemed somewhat obsessively maudlin to print out a rejection for the purposes of putting it into my three-ring binder along with its analog brethren (oh, yes — I rocked the three-ring Binder of Doom!), but that binder has every printed rejection I ever received, dating back to the 1980s and my very first story submission ever (to Asimov’s). The other day, spurred on by the six-year rejection, I dug out that file and flipped through those rejections. It’s funny — I suddenly remembered a vow I had made to myself, long, long ago: I swore that on the day I published my first novel, I would throw a big party. The guests would each receive one of those original rejections, and at the end of the party, I would light a fire and we would all burn them.

And yet here they are, still sitting in my file cabinet. I had that party, but I never even thought of the rejections. I was too happy. Suddenly all of those rejections meant nothing — whatever power they’d held over me (more accurately, whatever power I’d given them over me) had vanished. Moving forward was more important than burning the past.

At any rate, I’m glad I kept them all because in looking through them, I found my favorite rejection slip EVER. It’s from Hustler magazine. (In high school, I wrote a rather dark yet, er, racy story. At a loss for where to send it, I flipped through my well-thumbed, library-borrowed copy of Writer’s Digest and saw that Hustler accepted such stories. Off it went.)

And since I am a pack rat, I still have that rejection and can show it to you here:


Hustler rejection slip

(See? I wasn’t kidding about the three-ring binder, either!)

More next week. Comment below, y’all!

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