Why writers must learn to handle rejection

You’ve just spent months putting your heart and soul into writing a book. You’ve revised it, you’ve paid to have it edited, you’ve revised it again, you’ve missed out on sleep, you’ve skimped on time with family. You can’t imagine the story getting any better. You send it out.

A few weeks (or even worse, a few days) later, the publisher or magazine editor or literary agent sends you a rejection slip.

Probably you got no explanation as to why the piece was rejected. Maybe you were lucky enough to get a form checklist in which a quickly scribbled checkmark was made next to some vague claim like “character not developed enough.”

Do you give up or keep sending out the piece?

If you want to be a writer, you must persist in the face of self-doubt. You need to re-examine your piece, possibly revise it some more, and send it again.

Knowing why your piece was rejected in the first place certainly would be a plus when revising it. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of reasons as to why the editor didn’t place your piece into the take-a-second-look pile.

Perhaps the most common cause for rejection is that the piece didn’t match what the publisher/editor/lit agent was looking for. They might not consider your piece saleable to their respective audiences or markets. Because of this, meticulously researching the kind of works that your favorite publishing house or magazine publish is vital.

Having said that, your piece also needs to be unique in some way. A book publisher or magazine editor doesn’t want to publish cookie cutter versions of what they’ve previously printed. They may want something similar, but they want it to be something different as well. Given this, if you are writing cookie cutter pieces (and shame on you for being a hack!), you may want to find a place that is looking to cash in on the latest book craze by wanting to publish its own line of vampire or shopaholic stories.

Regardless, take heart: Your story probably is good (and I know you’re not a hack!). Recognize, however, that there are a lot of other good writers producing good stories and books. Many of them also received rejection slips.

Also, don’t forget that the number of publishing houses and magazines are shrinking. Thanks to the soft economy and competition from the Internet and self-publishing industries, fewer books are being publishing. Often there’s a demand for very niche writing, however – so while an adventure short story may not have many markets, there may be a demand for articles about backpacking into little known, wild backcountry. In addition, you may want to consider publishing on an Internet magazine.

Considering this, sometimes it’s simply a matter of finding the right editor before another writer does. My own rejected short story “I Hold the World but as the World” was submitted on its second go around to an editor who didn’t want it for his magazine but did believe it fit nicely into an anthology he wanted to publish. If I had stuffed the story into a box relegated to the attic, it never would have been published. Lucky I was, but such luck helped open the way to get other stories and articles published.

So remain strong. As science fiction writer Brian Aldiss once wrote, “Writers must fortify themselves with pride and egotism as best they can. The process is analogous to using sandbags and loose timbers to protect a house against flood.”

Fortify yourself, and soon the flood of rejections will stop coming.