Rejections are an inevitable part of being a writer, at least if you have any ambition to see your work printed by anyone other than yourself. But there are different types of rejections, and some of them can have beneficial consequences.
I’ve been actively trying to get my short stories published since the start of 2016 and, in the 21 months since, I’ve received nearly 150 rejections. So, I’m very used to them by now, and they generally don’t bother me that much any more. Sometimes, they still hurt, particularly when it’s a piece I’m really proud of and I’ve targeted the publication really carefully. Mostly, though, I see them as an opportunity to find somewhere else to send that piece, and I like to have 20-30 submissions out in the world for consideration at any one time.
There are some rejections, though, that are nearly as good as an acceptance - not quite, but nearly. Those are the ones where the editor has taken the time to provide feedback on the piece. If this is in the form of a comment on why it was rejected, that can be extremely useful in identifying ways to strengthen the piece and make it more likely to be accepted by the next publication. I’m always grateful when editors take the time to do this, as they are busy people with many, many submissions to review, and I appreciate the effort they’ve made to be constructive in their rejection.
Even better, though, are the ones that provide positive feedback on the writing, even though they’ve decided not to publish it themselves. You see, there can be many reasons why an editor does not select a piece of writing for publication, and quite a few of them have nothing to do with the quality of the writing. Particularly when you first start submitting pieces of consideration, it can be difficult not to be discouraged by rejections, and a common conclusion people come to is that they are just no good as writers.
So, I think it’s especially valuable when editors go out of their way to let writers know they’ve enjoyed a submission, as it gives the writer the confidence to send it elsewhere.
The first time I was actually paid for a story came about because of just such a piece of feedback. I had written a story specifically for a quite prestigious fantasy anthology, and was cautiously optimistic about its chances because I thought it was one of my better efforts. The email I got back from the editor said:
“This is a perfectly good story, but it doesn't quite have the feel I want for this anthology. Try this on another market.”
This bolstered my confidence in the quality of the story, so I sent it somewhere else and it got snapped up straight away.
Having achieved a small run of successes with mostly non-paying publications, I recently decided to limit my submissions to only paying markets. Since then, none of my stories have been accepted for publication. This might have led me to believe that my writing isn’t good enough to be paid for - except that I’ve received multiple pieces of very positive feedback.
One magazine praised my submission for containing “beautiful writing” and “a compelling story”, even though it didn’t fit what they were looking for. So, I have submitted that story to a prestigious competition, and will see what happens. An editor of anthology told me my story had “almost made it” and asked if I had anything else I could submit. I sent two more stories, both of which she praised, but neither of which quite fit the theme. That suggests that she likes my writing in general, so I’ve subscribed to find out about more upcoming anthologies from that publisher, so I can write something specifically for them next time, and maybe get a look-in.
One of my favourite rejection responses said:
“Your piece has many merits; in the end, however, it’s just not quite right for us. Thank you for sending your piece in. We hope that you continue to draw on your considerable talents as you move forward in your writing.”
Now, to my mind, there’s no reason for a rejection to include such lovely comments if they’re not sincere, as editors are unlikely to want to encourage more submissions from writers they don’t think are good enough. So, I take rejections like this at face value, use them to off-set the discouragement of not being successful, and keep the publications on my list for future submissions.
Another lesson I should perhaps learn from these rejections is that I need to research the publications I submit to more carefully, and target my writing better towards what they’re looking for. I do try to do this - after all, it would be foolish to send an existential literary piece to a publication that specialises in military sci-fi. But I could certainly do more work in this area. If only I had more time to read past issues and study the stories that have been accepted, I might have more success. And perhaps that would be a more worthwhile use of what time I have than some of the other things I do. Certainly food for thought.