Friday, June 22, 2012


I'm not going to mince words. Rejection sucks.

In the writing business, rejection happens far, far more often than acceptance. It's probably something like a 1000:1 ratio. Although maybe it just feels that way. Most writers accept that rejection is part of the terrain, and learn to make peace with it by realizing that rejection doesn't always equate with lack of quality. We console ourselves by looking up the rejection letters of famous people (like here) and citing statistics like C.S. Lewis' 800 rejections before selling anything (like here). No matter what type of writing you do, rejection is going to happen when you're trying to get other people to spend their money to support you.

If you can't come to terms with that, you've got no business calling yourself a writer. 

At a certain point, you find yourself opening those envelopes and emails, reading the "sorry to disappoint you" message, shrugging your shoulders and going back to what you were doing before, which is, most likely, working on a new writing project (because, seriously, if you are sitting around waiting for your masterpiece to be accepted for publication before you start working on the next project, you've also got no business calling yourself a writer).

As I've been sending Altar of Dead Pets out to agents, I've gotten rejections. It's part of the business. I fully realize that, even if Altar were the most amazing, extraordinary novel EVER written, not every agent is going to like it or, even, if they do like it, be able to sell it. And I've gotten rejections from agents who definitely fall into the latter category. They like it, think it's well written, but don't feel as if they could be successful with it. (in the writing biz, that's called a good rejection - we actually have different categories of rejection because, hey, when you're dealing with a 1000:1 ratio, not all rejections are created equal and you've GOT to find some way to make yourself feel better - maybe I'll do a post about the 50 Shades of Rejection for next week). Most of the rejections are fine - a couple of lines that tell me the agent read my query and pages but doesn't think it's the right project for him or her. No problem

However, sometimes, there's a rejection letter that is just...well...insulting.

I got one of those this week. And it wasn't for the novel. It was for a piece I submitted to a literary journal. 

It wasn't that the letter was rude (a friend of mine has gotten those - the ones that basically tell you you should give up. NOW) or led me to believe my writing hadn't been given courteous consideration (again, gotten those - the insta-rejections that hit your email inbox less than 24 hours after you sent something. Another friend just got one of those TWO hours after she sent the query on a Sunday evening - that's REALLY telling the writer you don't care because it seems like it was an automated rejection letter).

This rejection letter was none of those things. Instead, it bent over backward to be...nice. And it bent over backward to take my feelings into consideration. And it bent over backward to assure me that I should, in no way be discouraged by this rejection. And it bent over backward to let me know how many really good writers this publication has rejected over the years and how much work - work that they really, really like - they've had to reject because they simply can't publish everything nor do they have the time to give me a critique of my work. And they really, really hope this won't make me stop writing.

And there it is. The thing I find insulting.

This was a literary journal with a very good reputation. It has a professional editor. They publish professional writers. Many of whom have international reputations. And yet, the letter treats me as if I am some fragile flower who's feelings will be so damaged by this rejection that I will stop writing. 

As I said above, if rejection is going to make you stop writing, you're not a writer. 

My real point in this is not to be snarky about the rejection, it's to say that rejection happens and it's, essentially, meaningless to the writing process. Part of being a professional, an adult, is to know and have faith in the work I'm doing and recognize that one person's opinion is not the world's.

And my other point is to ask editors and agents to please, please, have respect for the writers with whom you come in contact. If we are truly professionals, rejection, even yours, will not kill us. Treat us like the professionals we are. Please.

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