July 7, 2013

Reality of Rejection

Everyone who embarks on the path to traditional publication learns quickly that rejection is an intrinsic and unavoidable part of the process.  Some choose to wear rejections as a badge of honor; others hide them away.  Many comfort themselves, and others, with the reminder that even hugely triumphant authors were rejected – countless times! – before succeeding "overnight." Even friends who have no active knowledge of the reality of the publishing industry remind me of stories such as that of J.K. Rowling when I mention my current rejection count. 

It is, indeed, important to remember that each rejection boils down to an individual's opinion, affected by a constellation of circumstances.  But how many rejections does it take until we realize the problem isn't the circumstances, but the proposal, or even the work? Because the reality is, although every published author has stories of rejections, what really matters is their magic number – that one instance of acceptance.

That story sets them apart from the constantly expanding group of unpublished writers, who continue to gather rejections, until they ultimately give up.  Writers, who never transition to the status of [traditionally] published authors.

I write this not to encourage quitting, but rather to inspire determination.  It is not simply a matter of the right constellation of circumstances or of continuing to send out submissions until someone sees our hidden brilliance.  We cannot be complacent with our process, continuing to mail submissions while disregarding the growing rejection count.  We must adapt to any new information, seek out other avenues for having our work seen by the right people, and even occasionally put aside one manuscript in favor of allowing an alternate candidate into the field.

Each rejection may still be a marker on our journey, but we must treat them as guideposts: they should provide directions to the right path rather than being automatically added like pebbles to an increasingly heavier collection.  Then, we can avoid stumbling around blindly and instead progress, hopefully steadily, toward our intended destination.


  1. I'm pretty new at the subbing game, but see many writer-group members commenting on their reams of rejections. It's those where the agent or editor provides something constructive about improving their stories that writers consider 'great rejections'. It's too bad that most in the pub. biz don't have or take the time to do it because those are meaningful guideposts that spur the writer on through the journey.

    1. Very true :-) I think that'll be one of the great benefits of submitting to contests – receiving the judges' score sheets and comments. At the same time, I think receiving 15-20 rejections to a query (as opposed to requests for partials / fulls) should also tell us something and redirect us. I'm not there yet, though, so we'll see if I still feel that way a while from now.