Monday, January 5, 2015


Image courtesy of Ambro at
Rejection.  It’s one of those things that sounds absolutely terrible. What sort of things do we think when we hear the word ‘rejection’?

I know that for me, my immediate association is with relationships or dating.  You know, you work up the courage to ask out that super-dreamy guy or girl and then…they reject you.  Or, maybe you have to do the rejecting when somebody you have no interest in approaches you. 

Perhaps you auditioned for a play, and you got rejected.

Or, perhaps your application for a FAFSA grant gets rejected. If you’re in college or a senior in high school, you know what a big deal this is.  Perhaps your application to a special college program is rejected. 

Maybe you applied for a job, and you didn’t ‘fit the description’ quite the way they wanted you to.

Rejection isn’t fun. It’s especially not fun when it comes to something you’ve poured a lot of hard work into.  Especially if it’s your writing that is being rejected. As writers, our work tends to be an outpouring of our souls, our passions, our fears – in many ways, it is an extension of ourselves.  To have something that intimate rejected actually seems worse than all of the examples above.

Yes.  My first rejection letter was actually harder than finding out the guy I liked had no interest in me.

Unfortunately, unless you want your writing to sit in a desk drawer forever, you have to run the risk of rejection – except it’s less of a risk and more of a statistical guarantee.  It’s not a true guarantee, since there is the occasional outlier and somebody gets lucky on their first try.  But, suffice it to say, the odds are astronomical. 

If you’re a young writer, chances are you that are not anywhere close to being ready to submit something major (though you might be submitting to school contests, or you might be the next Christopher Paolini).  But, I’m going to make an educated guess that somewhere in the back of your mind, the idea of being published someday has occurred to you. You might see advertisements for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and dream about that being you. You might see Paolini and dream about that being you.  You might think, sure, the odds of being immediately accepted are terrible, but maybe I will be the exception.

It’s nice to dream, isn’t it?

Do be careful, though, about letting the dreams become your expected reality.  I’m not telling you that you should be pessimistic, because as I’ve discussed before, pessimism does not help the situation.  But you need to balance a healthy optimism with the understanding that the odds do not favor you. (It’s simple statistics, no more, no less.

For example, here’s a sample of something I found in my email inbox last Wednesday:
Dear Mx. Vossler,

  Thanks so much for submitting to [us], and for your patience while we evaluated your story. Unfortunately, [your story] is not quite right for us. I wish you the best of luck placing it elsewhere.
Yeah…that right there is a genuine form-letter rejection.  I’m up to a total of three of those for my writing career now. Honestly, I wasn’t really expecting anything different, but it still hurt a little bit. Okay, I was pouty for a full half-hour.  But compared to crying for a couple of hours after my first rejection letter, I was downright cheerful. 

What made this recent rejection a little easier to swallow was understanding that a) the odds were never in my favor and b) they really meant it wasn’t right for them – sort of like oranges aren’t quite right for a store that specializes in apples. This is not to say that oranges are inherently bad, it just means that they aren’t apples.  It was still seriously disappointing – there’s no way around that.

Isaac Asimov, the author of I, Robot and the Foundation trilogy had something interesting to say about rejection letters:
Rejection slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil—but there is no way around them.
If you ask me, it’s a bit overdramatic.  Okay, seriously overdramatic.  Asimov must have been reading a little too much Percy Bysshe Shelley (I had an English teacher describe Shelley as the “Emo kid of the Romantic Period) at the time. “Lacerations of the soul?” Hardly. Rejection letters are more like acne.  A very few lucky people never have pimples, but most of us do.  Some grow out of it, others still get pimples occasionally throughout adulthood.  Acne is more like one of those facts of life that sucks, but it’s anything but soul-crushing.  And just like acne isn’t a reflection on the individual who deals with it, rejection letters aren’t a reflection on the person who receives it.

A rejection letter means one of two things: your submission wasn’t quite right for the market, or your submission was not up to standards.  Neither of these things is a laceration on the soul.  If your work isn’t up to standards, then you are extremely lucky because this means you have a chance to improve it.  How embarrassing would it be to have something substandard appear in public with your name on it?

And, chances are good that the rejection letter doesn’t necessarily mean your work is substandard.  J.K. Rowling was rejected by a dozen different publishers.  Stephen King got scores of rejection letters.  But look at where they are now.

So, if you find yourself feeling dejected about your writing because you keep thinking, “What if I submit this and it gets rejected,” cut that crap out.  A rejection letter is a victory – it proves that you have taken a step that many people are too afraid to take.  Don’t let fear of the future keep you from writing in the now – pour yourself into your writing and let the future worry about itself.

(Also, don’t buy into that “lacerations of the soul” nonsense.  I love Asimov and respect him highly as a writer, but…seriously?)

Do fears of rejection trouble you while you write, even if you aren’t planning on submitting something anytime soon? Do you actually agree that rejection letters might be like "lacerations on the soul"? I'm curious to hear other perspectives. Share any thoughts in the comments.

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1 comment:

  1. I don't feel a lot of fear of rejection at the moment- though it's probably related to the fact that I'm not looking to publish anything for a long time. I guess that's probably because I'm my own biggest critic. Really, aside from fanfiction, I'm more interested in the editing side of things. From the sound of it, one's FIRST rejection letter feels a little like a "laceration on the soul," but I agree that any form of setback gets easier to take and learn from after a little experience.