[Here I use ditty in the middle ages sense — ie. meaning “story” — in addition to the usual contemporary reference, to a song or a poem.]
Last Friday, one of my much-beloved short stories was published on Fixional. I tell you this not to extol the many virtues of subscribing to said journal — although you absolutely can — but to introduce this post, about rejection.
Why another post on writerly rejection? For two reasons, dear reader: (1) my just-published piece had been rejected 20 times before its acceptance, reminding me that rejection is a fact of submission; and (2) my relationship with professional rejection has changed over the last few years, along with my learnings.
In the spirit of disclosure, here are the unpretty stats around my six most recently published short stories/poems (in places outside of this blog):
6. ‘That day in the back of the SUV’ [short story] — v16 published in Fixional in June 2017. Written in 2014. Rejected 20 times before acceptance. Longlisted for InkTears Short Story Competition in 2015.
5. ‘The Unknown’ [short story] — v12 published in Breach in May 2017. Written in 2014. Rejected 12 times.
4. ‘My Father’s Voice at the Weir’ [flash fiction] — v8 published in The Ham in September 2016. Written in 2014. Rejected 5 times.
3. ‘Open Letter’ [poem] — v3 published in MoTHER [has words…] in July 2016. Written in 2016. Never rejected.
2. ‘The Very In-Between’ [flash fiction] — v6 published in the 2016 Grieve Anthology. Written in 2016. Never rejected.
1. ‘Self-Analysis on a Train’ [poem] — v3 published in Paper Crown Magazine in April 2016. Written in 2015. Never rejected.
I guess I got lucky with numbers 1-3…
But don’t get me wrong: a number of my rejections have been quite delightful. So delightful, in fact, that I still might frame them — and I say this with utter sincerity.
In addition to enhancing the trampoline-like qualities of my writerly skin, each rejection reminds me that there are a ridiculous number of factors involved in whether or not a work is accepted or rejected, many of which are beyond my control; some, I can do something about.
A random handful of my learnings include…
Be realistic. When you’re considering your piece, ask: Is the story strong? Are the characters real? Is the dialogue natural? Does the reader get a sense of atmosphere/place? Does it say what it needs to say and no more?
Edit for as long as you need to before you feel really great about your work, and wait at least 24 hours (preferably 1 week or more) before sending off your rendition of that brilliant beast that came to you in the night because chances are there will be an aspect you want/need to change. Unless it’s a poem or a piece of flash, I rarely submit under v7.
Be discerning. So there is this journal from your homeland you have been reading for years. You love their work and you would be so chuffed to see one of your pieces in there — yet they don’t seem to want you. Why is that?
Think about their audience and the preferences of the editors/judges. Look at pieces they have previously published as well as those they recommend in articles and workshops: this could indicate a preference for styles and voices unlike your own. Not everyone shares the same tastes. Accept it. Move on.
Of course, there is the possibility that your brilliant piece was only rejected because they accepted a piece just like it right before they read yours.
Or maybe they love it, but your piece doesn’t fit with their theme. Which they just decided on last night. Who’d have thought they would receive such an influx of enlightened pieces on crime-fighting pigeons?
Stay positive. When you receive a rejection, don’t shoot off a nasty reply to the editor, and do take another look at your piece straight away. If you still believe in it, tweak (if needed) and send it off again as soon as you can. With discernment.
A personal rejection is a win. Most journals accept 1-2% of the submissions they receive, or less. With this deluge of words to consider, a personal note is a big deal — especially if that comes from a journal/competition that doesn’t usually give personal feedback. That only comes when your piece has merit, when they believe in you.
Get friends who get you. Surround yourself with supportive, honest writing buddies. The right writing/critique partners are invaluable — and in my case, you wonderful word wranglers know exactly who you are!
…but these are just some of my thoughts, dear reader. What gems can you share from your own experiences?
Here are links to two more excellent articles on dealing with rejection, and one that features good writerly advice in general (except for the bit about the bees, perhaps):