Welcome to my Pity Party: What Rejection Really Means

Blog | craft
March 10, 2016

By Jan Fields

Rejection letters make no one giddy with joy, but most of us get far more
than we could possibly, ever want. Most of us. Actually, I've been told that
Paula Danzinger sold her first book without a single rejection. And I sold
my first magazine article without a single rejection. It was for a magazine
I had read many times so I wrote an article, had a friend shoot photos to go
with it, I mailed it off (without ever reading the writer's guidelines), and
they bought it and paid me over $1000. I thought I was God's gift to
magazine writing. I thought I had it made. I was so wrong.

Over the years I've been writing, I've had hundreds of rejection letters.
I've had form letters. I've had notes scribbled on form letters. I've had
notes scribbled on my cover letter. I've had email rejections. I've had long
detailed rejection letters - one of the editors who read a picture book
manuscript of mine hated it. Hated it. He wrote a long detailed letter about
how much he hated it. It actually made me laugh because that guy really
hated that book. I see that editor at conferences sometimes and always think
of him as the guy enraged by my picture book. That's got to be a point of
some pride. Be extremely careful when wishing an editor would tell you why
they reject something - someone just might do it.

Over the years I've figured out something about rejection letters. They all
have one thing in common. They really have nothing to do with me personally.
I don't get rejection letter because I stink as a writer. I don't get
rejection letters because I'm chubby or near-sighted or laugh too much. I
get rejection letters because the product I produced (a manuscript) didn't
meet the needs and desires of specific people at specific publishers.

They aren't rejecting my full body of work.

They aren't rejecting my personality.

They are rejecting a single manuscript for reasons that might be more
personal than professional (such as in the instance of the editor cited
above - the same manuscript that he waxed so poetic about hating went to
acquisitions meetings and landed me an agent. But it rubbed that one editor
firmly the wrong way.)

Rejections are about specific manuscripts in specific situations. That's why they tend to happen to everyone. Jane Yolen even gets rejections. She doesn't like them either, but she gets them despite being an exceptionally fine writer.

Actually, rejection letters have something else in common - you are very
limited in your ability to control them. You can do certain things to lesson
the odds of getting one:

1. Study the market and send only material that you have some reason to
believe will fit it.

2. Study your craft and send no manuscript out until you are firmly
convinced it is the very best work you can produce. That includes typos and
format - if you don't pay attention to the little things, you may have
missed some of the big ones too.

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3. Bring in fresh eyes. Writers are hampered by knowing exactly what they
meant to say - this can make them blind to whether or not they actually said
it clearly and concisely. This makes a second pair of eyes so valuable. A
fresh reader can tell you where you create questions and confusion - and you
can fix it before you mail.

4. Read every manuscript out loud. Euphony makes a huge difference in sales.
Even though books and magazine stories/articles for older kids are usually
NOT read aloud, it should still be so smoothly written that it can be. It
should make a kind of metrical music in the mind of the reader. And you can
make certain it does by reading your manuscript aloud (or better yet, having
someone read it to you) and smoothing the rough spots.

Still, even if I do all that I can do - I cannot force editors to buy my
work. I cannot make a publisher slip one more story into their magazine or
one more book into their spring line-up. I can listen to advice the editors
offer, when they offer it. I can consider it and make revisions based on it.
But I cannot make rejections go away. If I could, I would have no
rejections.

Rejections are not proof that you cannot write. They signify failure ONLY if
you let them make you quit writing and submitting. They are only proof that
this is a difficult profession we've chosen and filled with challenges. We
can't change the challenges, but we can change how we meet them. Think about
what great books would be lost forever if these writers allowed rejection to
derail them -

Dr. Seuss received many rejections (I found numbers from 27 to 70) before
his first book was published.

Jack London had over 200 rejections before he made his first sale.

Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time collected many rejections (I found
numbers from 29 - 45) before it was published.

David Lubar collected about 100 rejections before he ever sold anything.

In an interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith, Gail Carson Levine said, "It
took me nine years to get anything published. At the beginning I mostly
wrote picture books, which were rejected by every children's book publisher
in America. Nowadays, when I visit schools, I often read my worst rejection
letter to the kids. That letter, which made me miserable at the time, no
longer has the power to hurt me. Nowadays, it's now a prized possession, a
symbol for never giving up." 

There is really only one true response to rejection: writing and writing and
writing and writing and by refusing to give up.

Tim Allen in Galaxy Quest had it right: "Never give up. Never surrender."


If you want more writing instruction like this, plus lots of tips and great resources, click here!


Great Read!

By Mara Kim Amazon review, Verified Purchase

"This is another great read from [ICL]... When I saw this particular one, I grabbed it immediately ... This book is a great addition to a writer's (whether published or not) shelf ... I highly recommend their writing courses. You receive feedback on your work from published authors. You will be encouraged but also pushed to make your story from good to great."