the devilâs rejects

Writing: How to Deal with Rejection

Every author faces rejection. That’s the mantra of writers everywhere who most likely just received a letter that probably went something like:  

Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, it’s not right for us-

Click. Delete.

It’s not as simple as that, though, right? Rejection stings. Of course it does. You’ve gone to all the effort of writing a story and subbing it to a literary magazine in the hopes that – maybe, just maybe – it’ll get picked out of the litter and chosen for publication. And instead? You’re slapped with another rejection slip, forced to purge it from your inbox lest it infect you with its negativity. And keep subbing. And tweaking. And then subbing some more.

“Hold on,” you say, frowning. “Wasn’t J. K. Rowling rejected loads of times?”

Yes, she was. Twelve times, in fact.

“Aha!” You thrust a fist triumphantly. “That must mean my story is actually a literary masterpiece!”

Um, no, probably not. Not to burst your bubble, but the odds of that being the case are slim, to say the least. See, rejection might be for any of a number of reasons.

You might not have followed the submissions guidelines. I labour behind the scenes at a literary magazine, and I see this is a lot. I mean, really, it’s depressing. The rules are there for a reason. We get loads of submissions – hundreds, actually. We want to like your story. We want to love it. Don’t do anything that won’t endear us to you.

Your story might not be the right fit. That doesn’t mean it’s not any good, but the magazine might be aimed at a different demographic, or the editor just mightn’t have clicked with it. You know this is the case when the editor happens to mention it in the rejection slip. And if not, then see #3.

Your story? Yeah, it’s not quite the literary masterpiece you think it is. Now, don’t take this the wrong way, but the submissions stage serves to filter out the excess slush, and if your story keeps hitting a wall in this stage, then it might be time to edit. Don’t scrap it. It probably still has the potential to be a great story. Just show a beta reader or two. Get a second and third opinion. Tweak. Rinse and repeat.

Personalized rejection letters – ones which explain why the story was rejected, what you can do to improve and even where else you could submit it – are the best. In fact, they’re almost as good as an acceptance. I had a YA thriller piece rejected by a horror magazine, but the response was so nice and helpful that I was on a high all day. Go figure.

The most essential piece of advice? Don’t give up. No story – and more importantly, no author – is hopeless. And, you know, every author faces rejection. Just keep subbing and one day, an acceptance will arrive in your inbox. It’s not a matter of if. Just when.