Burning Question: How do you deal with rejection?
Thank you for submitting ‘Spock Meshugenah’ to Amazing Loonie Stories. While we did not find this story fit our needs, we hope you will think of us when you write your next masterpiece. No, really. The Editors”
Okay, here’s how it is out there. A magazine like Amazing Loonie Stories gets something like 200 to 300 submissions a week. You’re one of them. Next week they’ll get 300 more and odds are you won’t be one of them, unless you’re incredibly prolific and are writing a story every five minutes (in which case I suspect I know what’s wrong with your stories already).
Ways to make that story shine above the other 299 is a topic for another day. The point here is, the odds of you not being rejected are very much like those of you winning at roulette. You are going to be rejected.
More correctly stated, your story is going to be rejected. Why? Who knows? Maybe you haven’t really created viable characters. Maybe your premise is shaky. Maybe your idea of science fiction is what you’ve seen on TV or in the movies (certainly, if the story’s called “Spock Meshugenah”) and you don’t actually know the genre, haven’t even read The Martian Chronicles, never mind Charles Stross or The Windup Girl, and so you’re unknowingly penning outdated, hackneyed story ideas.
None of these things is an impossibility to overcome. You can learn and improve upon all of these things–mostly by writing more and reading more–either about how to write characters or more fiction of the kind you think you want to write. Rejection is about this story at this moment in time. It might not even be about your story. It could be the editor just bought something like it, so can’t take another story about autistic vampire robots from Jupiter (seriously, please don’t write that idea), or you haven’t bothered to read the magazine at all, and it’s really a magazine of stories about telescopes trained on the moon. Again, the problem is solved by reading–in this case, reading the markets you want to pitch to.
In every case, rejection is not a personal attack on you. Okay, I’ve heard of one rejection slip to an author that read “If I had to choose between buying your story and shooting my mother, it would be a bad day for mom.” That’s personal. If you got that rejection, then it’s personal. Otherwise, no. The most a rejection slip is telling you is “Your story isn’t ready.” The least it’s telling you is “This didn’t do anything for us.” If you quit because you got rejected, then you really didn’t want this very much. “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, sitting in the garden eating worms” is not a viable response to rejection. Yes, no one likes having their contribution turned down. But those who are in print now while you aren’t had to charge through the same gauntlet of rejection to get into print.
So deal with rejection however you have to. The healthiest form of rejection coping I ever saw was my teacher many years ago, T.C. Boyle, who had taken his rejection slips from Esquire and Playboy and many other large, well-paying fiction markets (most of them gone now), and had made a collage out of them, framed it and hung it on the wall: Rejection as a thing you look at. That’s healthy.
Here’s one solution for you. Before you send your story anywhere, pick a minimum of five markets for it. You can pick more, but no less–and these had better be markets you’ve checked, read, established print stories like yours. The list should start with the highest paying market and go down the scale. Once you have your list, then start submitting. If the story is rejected, cross that market off and send it to the next on your list. Rinse and repeat until you’ve run out of markets or it’s sold. If you go through your entire list there, and the story’s been rejected, probably that says your story is not ready yet. Now it’s time to reconsider it. Revise or set it aside. You should have been writing more stories anyway, while this one was out. If you write a story and then wait for it to sell before you write the next one, you are doing this wrong. Cut it out.
Rejection is part of the game. Accept that now and the rest will be easier.
Gregory Frost is the author of well over fifty published short stories. He spent six years writing them and being soundly rejected before his first one found its way into print. His latest stories are appearing in the anthologies Clockwork Phoenix 3 and The Beastly Bride.