My Second Repost: My Rejection Collection

It's like that scene at the end of Miracle on 34th Street, only depressing.

It’s like that scene at the end of Miracle on 34th Street, only depressing.

Is it really a “repost” if said post is from so long ago you haven’t read it before?

Yes. Yes it is.

Sorry about that. On the upside, it will appear new to you, and isn’t that the important thing?

Enjoy!

***

A few years ago, an aspiring writer acquaintance of mine decided to share his feelings with me. Just that afternoon he had received a rejection letter and he was, to put it mildly, miffed. The editors at the publishing house were stupid, he said. And someday he would show them just how stupid they were. He would keep this rejection letter and file it away. Then he would rub that letter in their stupid, stupid faces when he was a big success.

My first thought upon hearing this monologue was, “Should such an angry, spiteful person be writing for children?”

I decided not to share that particular thought, though. Instead, I told him that I, too, keep a careful list of every rejection I ever received ­– which is true. (What I didn’t tell him was that my list exists for professional reasons rather than personal ones. I use it to avoid accidentally sending an editor a manuscript she has already rejected.)

On another occasion, I listened to another aspiring writer explain her state of mind upon receiving her own rejection letter. Her emotions ran the gamut from self-pity to self-loathing.

My first reaction to her was, “Why is this person writing at all? It’s killing her.” And, yes, I kept this thought to myself, too.

While both of these writers’ reactions were outwardly quite different, they were similar in two significant ways: First, their responses were strongly emotional, which ­is exhausting. (My philosophy is, if you must to do something to exhaust yourself, at least let it work your core.) Second, both writers found it necessary to understand and articulate the reason why they were rejected.

There can be hundreds of reasons why your story gets rejected, so fretting about why, in my view, is a waste of time. That said, if you must have an explanation to put a painful rejection behind you, my advice is to refrain from blaming either the editor or yourself (which, as I mentioned earlier, will prompt strong emotions, is exhausting, and does not count as exercise). Instead, choose a reason that involves math: The odds are against you.

Never forget that thousands of wannabes are vying for maybe a dozen available slots on a publisher’s list. There’s a reasonable chance that you’ll never get the brass ring, no matter how good you are. It stinks, but it’s true. The best part about using this particular rejection explanation is that it is – at least on some level – always correct.

So now that you have your reason, get back to work. ‘Cause there’s no chance you’ll ever get published if you don’t write and send stuff out. Being dogged is the only way to tilt the odds a bit more in your favor.

My very first children's book rejection letter. Ah, memories!

My very first children’s book rejection letter. Ah, memories!

For the purpose of this post, I did something I had never done before ­– counted up all the children’s book rejections on my list. I once heard that Dr. Seuss accumulated as many as 43 rejections before his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was published. That’s a good number, but I knew I had it beat. I guessed that my rejection total would be around 75.

I wasn’t even close. It was 114.

It gets better. I once received a rejection a day for three consecutive days – an event I found so impressive that I had to mention it on Facebook. “Never before,” I wrote, “have I been so successful at failing.” My friends offered me hearty congratulations on my achievement. A few of them even encouraged me to beat this record. (I did not disappoint; a few months later I got three rejections in two days. So WOO!)

Needless to say, if I got upset every time one of those letters arrived, I would have given up this writing thing a long time ago.

This past September I offically became a Published Author. It is my sincere hope that this fact will help me get my second book accepted a bit faster than the first one. If it doesn’t, however, I won’t fret too much; fretting is exhausting and I really should be working on my abs.

72 thoughts on “My Second Repost: My Rejection Collection

  1. It’s certainly fine to repost when you know that most of your current readers won’t have read it! (Well I hadn’t read it anyway, and that’s what’s important here).

    The amount of rejection letters is testimony to your persistence, and the fact that you were eventually accepted and published is a good reminder to us all to keep going! I really need to send more stuff out…

    • The first rejections are the hardest. Once you have accumulated a few, however, you begin to see them as par for the course. Rejection is the price we pay for wanting to tell stories for a living.

      Mind you, I can’t shrug off every rejection. The “Ooh, I’ve made it to the final round of scrutiny!” rejections still sting. They probably always will.

  2. Mike,
    A true and honest post, and it comes at a good time for me. I find that I can be pretty dogged and optimistic…. until I’m not. Luckily for me, I’m just getting full-time job rejections right now… I’ve held off on finalizing the novel and submitting it… one set of rejections at a time is plenty. ; )

  3. SO glad you re-posted this one, Mike. I hadn’t read it, and really needed it today. Aside from your sense of humor, which I love, I just got another rejection yesterday for both of my novels (does that count as two rejections in one day?? Yay — my personal best!) You are so right: Why suffer? As “Glee” taught us all last night, we sing, write, create, because we love to do it, in spite of winning or losing. Thanks for the reminder!

    • We all must remember that when a deeply personal project gets rejected, it’s nothing personal. It’s not an easy lesson to learn, but it sure is an important one.

      Good luck with your novels, my friend. If you can write half as well as you can paint, you will have little trouble getting published.

  4. Hi Mike, seems this post has resonated with more than just me. It is timely for me too because I sent out my first unsolicited manuscript last week. I am expecting a rejection simply because, what are the odds of a first timer getting accepted?
    My husband and I wrote the story together a few years ago and we had a lot of fun with it, which is the gift of the whole experience. My husband passed away in April, 2011, after a long illness. I have had to steal myself so I will not take a rejection personally. I am looking at it as though I am offering a piece of apple pie to someone who may have their heart set on pumpkin. I can accept a “no thanks” and take my apple pie on a search for that one who has their heart set on apple pie.
    That’s my theory anyway. I’ll let you know how that plays out for me. 😉

    • I like your pie analogy. Publishers often have very specific needs and your story, no matter how well-written, might not cater to those needs.

      Hey, it happens.

      Thanks so much for visiting me. I wish you the very best of luck with your manuscript.

  5. First, clearly you’re a parent: put the toys away so that when you bring them out again the kids think they’re new. Yaayyy!

    I completely agree with you about fretting, worrying, taking it personally. Although my only writing takes place in the blogosphere or in private, perhaps I’ll be inspired to share in a different way at some point, and your advice and insight are spot-on.

    Maybe the pain of such letters comes from calling them rejections. How about if we shift that vision to another-poor-sucker-who-missed-the-opportunity-to-recognize-a-good-thing letter! Oh, well, they say there’s one born every minute! xoxoM

    P.S. I suck at acronyms!

  6. I’ve got to get ready to start sending out query letters, just so I can be blessed with my own stack of rejection letters. It’s taken me a while to become comfortable with the inevitable fact of rejection countless times before that one yes. It only takes one.

  7. We discussed this very thing in my creative writing class last night. The professor is also on staff at a literary magazine (of course) and she explained the selection process used to select pieces for their limited publications. Yeah. Wow. 250-300 fiction submissions, vying for TWO spots in a semi-annual publication. Makes other, larger publications seem untouchable to a complete unknown, beginner like myself. I’m gonna try anyway. Whether I am published or not, I will write… so, I may as well try to get it out there!

  8. I really enjoyed reading this, and take courage from your passionate persistence. You’re a great role model for us hopeful aspirants and the epitome of one of the four agreements (Don Miguel Ruiz) – take nothing personally. A mantra for life as a whole, as well as for gracefully receiving rejections.

  9. I appreciate this post – we sensitive, soft-shelled writers need this reminder (reposted or not) that we can NOT take rejections emotionally (that’s sort of impossible, isn’t it, if you’re a sensitive soft-shelled artist? I know I am..). However, many years ago one of my favorite authors, Madelyn L’Engle (author of A Wrinkle in Time and dozens of other fabulous books) shared that she had so many rejections when she sent out A Wrinkle, she papered her ‘writing tower’ (she wrote up in a cold small tower at top of the house) with them. I’m talking waaaay over a hundred. You and Madelyn share a persistence I admire.

    • Madelyn’s technique seems a little masochistic to me, but, hey, it clearly worked for her.

      The writing profession does have sort of a built-in irony to it: Writers need to be in touch with their emotions to create believable characters, but they also need to shut out those emotions when the rejections arrive. Those two facts are tough to reconcile, but nobody said being a writer was easy.

      Just so you know, I do love the way you write. So here’s hoping your shell gets a little harder over time.

  10. Everybody rejected Harry Potter the first time around and she’s now the RICHEST WOMAN in ENGLAND. That’s what I remind myself. But in this day and age of e-mail rejections, a nifty thing you can do (that is also constructive) is to e-mail back and ask the editor or agent if there was something you could do better in your next rewrite. Sure, sometimes they might just be rejecting you because they are worthless and heartless and a bad person — but I have gotten some important and useful feedback that way.

  11. It’s new to me! (This post, not rejections.)

    Every time I get a rejection now I let my agent worry about it. It’s nice to have that worry lifted off your shoulders. I just keep working on the next story–because if the one under submission doesn’t hit, maybe the next one will.

    Just keep swimming…just keep swimming…

  12. A wonderful lesson in persevering, Mike! I guess it’s like dating, or anything else where it’s a numbers game and subjectivity factors in so heavily—it only takes one “yes,” wherever and whenever that yes comes. So you just have to keep slogging away until you find that “yes.” Thanks for sharing a valuable lesson!

  13. I’m curious about the current state of affairs in the publishing industry. I had attempted to get published in the 1990s and at that time I ran into a catch 22 in which the publishers (I tried them all) would not accept manuscripts from anyone but an agent and an agent would only accept you if you had been published. I realize that things probably have change in the industry and wonder if publishers are accepting unsolicited manuscripts now? I was under the impression that self-publishing was the only way around this dilemma.

    • You don’t need to self-publish, Mrs. P. I don’t have an agent, but I got my book published. It wasn’t quick or easy, but I did it.

      Yes, a lot of the larger houses only accept manuscripts from agents, but there are many mid-sized and smaller houses that are willing to consider unagented work.

      I don’t know if you’re writing for children, but if you are, here’s a link that might be of use. Be sure to carefully check out each publisher’s submission guidelines; if you meet the criteria, then send! Good luck!

      http://www.everywritersresource.com/childrensbookpublishers.html

  14. I love your positive outlook towards rejection. It reminds me of the the old break-up line, “It’s not you, it’s me.” I like the repost since I didn’t get to read it the first time around. Thanks for a good read!

  15. I think J.K. Rowling got more than a dozen rejections for her first Harry Potter book. That’s not a lot really, but when you consider the success of her series, I bet a lot of editors were fired or questioned heavily. Many well known successful authors received hundreds of rejections. My friend says it’s a way to weed out the serious writers from the ones that aren’t

    • The runaway success of Harry Potter surprised everyone, I think. It was the first YA book that found significant enthusiasm among adult readers.

      Now every editor in the world is on the lookout for YA books that will appear to kids AND their parents. Rowling changed the game.

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  17. Thanks, Mike –this is such an important post for writers to read –especially new writers. I think if I hadn’t heard some encouragement like this when I started out I probably would have quit.

    I’m so happy you’ve gone from rejected writer to published author! I hope Sarah Gives Thanks did well this November. 🙂

  18. Rejections are exactly the reason I love blogging! I’m my own editor and rarely reject myself. And I would call three rejection letters is one day the epitome of Suckcess!! Just kidding of course! I think it’s good to keep in mind that you’re never going to win if you don’t ever enter! Writers who send out manuscripts for publication are heroic! I think Daniel Steel had seven novels rejected before she got her first one accepted. My motto is just keep moving forward no matter what. What else are you going to do?

  19. This is my favorite blog this week! You’re exactly right. You’d think fellow writers had never been rejected for anything at any time in their life. I’ve shown adult students in my writing classes the rejections I’ve received and they look at me with pity and wonder. “This is part of the work,” and then I continue with, “every writer receives them.” I will say this, though I think it a bit self-pious of editors to sound all huffy if their name happens to have the i and e backwards in their name when they send out form rejections like you (and I) received.

    • Thank you, Writing Waters!

      In my view, a person isn’t really ready to embark on a writing career until he or she recognizes that rejection is, as you say, a “part of the work.” You are performing a valuable service in your class by bringing this fact to your students’ attention. And good for you!

  20. Yes, perseverance is an important quality if a writer wants to succeed. It took 10 years of waiting for that one acceptance before I was published. I haven’t counted up all my rejections, but I doubt I ever will as that is all water under the bridge. My favorite quote regarding ejection letters is this:

    “This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘To the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address.’ Just keep looking for the right address.”
    — Barbara Kinglsolver

    I’m very happy that you had the perseverance to find ‘the right address’ for ‘Sarah Gives Thanks’. 🙂

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