Publishing Tips

Accepting Rejection

Caroline Misner

In the June 2018 Publishing Tip, Caroline Misner helps you move past the disappointment and frustration of receiving yet another rejection letter.

 

Caroline Misner’s work has appeared in numerous publications in the US, Canada, India, and the UK. She has been nominated for the prestigious McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize for her short story “Strange Fruit"; in 2011 another short story and a poem were nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She lives in the beautiful Haliburton Highlands of Northern Ontario where she continues to draw inspiration for her work. She is the author of the young adult fantasy series, The Daughters of Eldox.

“I love my rejection slips.  They show me I try.” – Sylvia Plath

There is nothing more disheartening to any writer than receiving a rejection.  After weeks, and often months, of meticulous research, random sparks of inspiration and long hours toiling at the keyboard, the writer feels her work of literary genius is ready to be released into the world only to have the piece rejected outright with cursory notes that begin with “Thank you for your submission, however. . .”  It is a sad fact of the profession.  There is little consolation in knowing that all writers, without exception, have dealt with rejection.  Any writer who claims to have never received a rejection is either lying or not submitting.

Though rejection is painful, there are a few things writers can do to assuage the feelings of failure and dejection when that notice comes into their inbox.

Know that Editors are Human:

This should go without saying.  After all, of course a human being will be receiving your submission.  But it is easy to forget that editors are individuals with certain tastes, likes and dislikes.  The editor is often harried and overworked.  Many editors of literary journals are unpaid volunteers with day jobs.  Theirs is a labour of love.  Sometimes their workload seems overwhelming and it takes time for them to get through the piles of submissions.

Editors take their Jobs Seriously:

It’s easy to visualize the haughty editor sipping demitasses in the Algonquin Room, surrounded by the equally snobbish literary elite, who wouldn’t dream of sullying her white gloves with an unsolicited manuscript.  This stereotype of the editor is blatantly false.  Most editors work long hours for mediocre pay.  They are editors because they believe in what they do. They want their publication to be the very best it can be so they are always on the lookout for the next big literary star.  And they are just as eager as you are to be a part of it.

Rejection is not a Personal Assault:

It’s hard not to take rejection personally. All writers feel their work is a piece of themselves laid bare to the world. Everyone knows what a kind-hearted, sweet, gentle person you are and it must be reflected in your writing.  However, the truth is your rejection is based on artistic and business decisions and has nothing to do with you as a person.  That editor is probably just as kind, loving and altruistic as you are.  Your personality, lifestyle and appearance have nothing to do with it.

Learn to be Patient:

Sometimes a response to a submission can take weeks or months, making the wait even more tortuous.  It helps to start another project to keep your mind occupied.  It also helps to know that long waits can mean that your manuscript has made it out of the slush pile and into the second round of readings. Editors work in tandem with various support staff and final decisions are rarely made by a single individual.  Even when the piece is rejected, it is often accompanied by a brief critique or an invitation to resubmit.

Not All Rejection is Negative:

Notwithstanding the cursory form letters, many of the rejections I’ve received over the years as a writer came with positive feedback or at least a valid explanation as to why the piece was rejected.  Some included invitations to submit other samples of my work that would be more appropriate.  A few even offered contact information to other journals and publishers who love my particular style and my work is just what they are looking for.

Writers are the Worst Critics of their own Work:

I have manuscripts that have been languishing in my hard drive for ten years or more.  I’m convinced they are some of my best work yet they remain unpublished.  Meanwhile, other works, though good but not my best, have been published within a year or two.  One poem that I thought was rather mediocre was accepted by the first journal I submitted it to.  Local writers’ groups, either online or face to face, can be invaluable.  Feedback from other writers can help you sift through what is good and what is just not working out.

Though rejections can be discouraging, it is important not to allow them to get the better of you.  Know that you are a good writer and that your work has merit.  And keep submitting. Rejections are not signs of failure.  The only failure is in giving up.

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The Malahat Review posts "Publishing Tips" as a bimonthly guest column on its Publishing Tipswebsite and in Malahat lite. Follow it in order to learn how to improve your professional skills, from the writing of cover letters, to what house style means, to choosing a rhyming dictionary, to having an author photo (as opposed to a selfie) shot. If you have a Publishing Tip you'd like to share, email The Malahat Review at malahat@uvic.ca, with "Publishing Tip Idea" in the subject line. Tips should be 750 words or less. If yours is accepted, you will be paid an honorarium of $50.

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