If You Don't Have Rejection Slips You Ain't No Writer!

Lots of writers brag about getting published in top national magazines. I often proudly tell beginning writers that I’m proud to have been rejected by some of the best magazines in the country. Huh?

I’ll try to explain. Most newbie writers think that writing is an easy and romantic pursuit. In fact, it can be… sometimes… once in a while… okay, rarely. I am passionate about my writing and I’ve been blessed to be successful at it. I’ve been published in National Geographic Society publications, Forbes, Better Homes & Gardens, Fortune publications, Money, and scads of others. I’ve been a weekly columnist for a major newspaper.

But the thing I’m perversely proudest of is my collection of rejection slips. Why? Because they are my badge of honor. They are the dues I’ve paid for the privilege of being a member of a very restricted club, a group of men and women who have earned a living from putting pen to paper or burning phosphors onto our electronic screens.

“Nice writing, but…”

“Due to the volume of submissions…”

“We’re sorry that your query does not fit our editorial needs at this time.”

Rejection Pile

In the days when we queried editors by snail mail, I saved my rejection letters. The pile you see here is just a fraction of them. The rest I used to literally paper my office, floor to ceiling, as a reminder of what it takes to succeed as a writer. It was eminently satisfying to realize that I had put these self-esteem destroying missives to good use.

Do rejection slips mean you aren’t a good writer? Just the opposite. If you accept some lamebrain editor’s judgment of your passion, then you are not a real writer. Rejections happen for so many quirky reasons entire chapters have been written about it. Let me tell you one personal story.

An Example

When I taught writing, at my very first class I would walk in, stand in front of an overhead projector I had set up in advance and, without a word, start putting transparencies of rejection letters I had received from 12 different publications for a story I believed in. For nearly a year this process went on. My only commitment to myself was that whenever a rejection came in, a new query would go out that very day.

Well, with the class following along, lucky number 13 arrived letting me know that my story had been accepted! Six months later came a hand-written letter from the editor saying it had been one of the most successful stories they had ever published, garnering many letters from readers. The letter included my check, plus a bonus, and a request for future articles. Now here is the rub. With the class trying to figure out why I went through this 15-minute waste of their time, I ended by circling the editor and the publication in red ink, then placing the very first rejection letter on the projector. They were the one and the same editor and publication!

This is one of my major points, that you never know why an editor is rejecting your work or query. It may have nothing to do with your writing. The publication may have just received or published a similar work. Your approach may not fit their guidelines or editorial voice. Or, let’s get real, the editor may have had a knock-down-drag-out fight with his or her spouse and is in a foul mood today.

So, my advice to minor league writers is this: accumulate rejections slips, save the letters, emails, and tweets. Staring them in the face tempers your steel. They teach you about which queries work and which do not. They prove that you are persistent. And, with a little luck and lots of practice working on this glorious, if sometimes frustrating craft, your batting average will improve. Soon you’ll be sending pitches to the top magazines out there… and scoring!

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