Let’s Talk Rejection

It’s been a pretty amazing summer for me, publication-wise. It started with Novella-T publishing McBurglar and the Man O’War, officially the longest thing I’ve gotten in print. A couple weeks after that came out, I got an acceptance from Wraparound South for my short story, “Lucky Devil.”

Both of those were very exciting—don’t get me wrong—but neither one of them had been on the market for very long. McBurglar never even got a rejection (partially because there’s only so many places you can send novellas) and “Lucky Devil” was rejected only 4 times before ultimately finding its forever home.

This is not true of my latest two short story acceptances, “Game Misconduct” (forthcoming from Rind) and “Shards” (just released in the Summer 2016 issue of Menda City Review). Both of these stories started as part of my Master’s thesis, though they’ve been edited so much since then they’re hardly recognizable. Both stories started out with different titles (“The Back-Up” and “Knowledge is Power,” respectively).

And both stories got rejected. A lot. Between the first time I submitted it in August 2011 and its acceptance in August 2016, “Shards” was rejected a whopping 35 times. “Game Misconduct” has better numbers (22 rejections between April 2011 and July 2016) but only because I had slightly less faith in it as an entity (it’s a hockey story, if the title didn’t give it away) and as a result submitted it less.

Many of these rejections came from journals I have no business submitting to but continue to submit to anyway: GlimmerTrain, Tin HouseCarve, Mid-American Review, all the usual suspects. Others came from journals with higher acceptance percentages for whom the stories weren’t a good fit for one reason or another. Almost certainly, a good 50% of those rejections happened because I sent the stories out too soon, before they were really ready. I’m more grateful than you’d probably believe for those rejections, because it gave me a chance to edit both stories into forms I’m proud to have in print.

In the 5-ish years I’ve been sending out work, I’ve received 190 rejections and 14 acceptances. Included in this was a publication dry spell that lasted almost 2 years (November 2013 to October 2015). As I understand it, these are not unusual statistics. Not that my normalcy was any consolation for those 23 months I spent wondering if my writing had become unpublishable.

Rejection is a part of a working writer’s life. It’s so much a part of our lives that we get excited when we get a particularly nice rejection. A friend of mine recently received a personal rejection from One Story and was thrilled, as she should have been, because personal rejections from elite journals are worth as many self-confidence points as some acceptances.

Submitting work is a numbers game. I think of it like playing poker: you won’t get far without skill, but you won’t win without an equal share of luck. The more you submit, the greater your statistical chances of acceptance. Whether your story has 10 rejections or 20 or 200, keep editing and sending, and never give up. Eventually it’ll find the eyes of an editor who has just as much faith in that story as you do. When that acceptance comes, it’ll taste ten times as sweet for every time someone told it “no.”

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