Not Accepted: On Coping with Rejections

It is a fact commonly accepted that all writers, at some point in their careers (but especially in the beginning), must face the bitter sting of rejection.

When I first began submitting, a rejection had the power to rock my world and literally ruin my day.  I still remember receiving my third and fourth rejections: they arrived within minutes of each other while I was on vacation in Maine.  Fun!  (Not. I lay on the bed and cried.)

Now, 95+ rejections in (with 75 of those rejections received in the last 2 years), getting a rejection is like getting a pimple: it’s sure disappointing that it keeps happening, but I’m pretty sure I’ll survive.

I began taking the act of submitting seriously about five years ago; from then until now, I’ve developed and appropriated a few strategies that have helped me get over being rejected, and I shall now impart this questionable wisdom to you.

A rejection doesn’t mean they hate you.  When a faceless entity behind an email is saying no to your work, it’s easy to feel like you are being told that you, as an entity, are not good enough, that you’re a failure as a human being, and, by the way, you smell like hot garbage.

I learned how to stop taking rejections so personally by accident, when Carlea Holl-Jensen invited me to co-edit The Golden Key.   When we were reading for Issue 7, I hated administering the seal of rejection.  I didn’t want the author to feel like we were rejecting them as people or writers just because a piece wasn’t a good fit for us; in fact, I wanted every success for them.  As I fretted over the way a rejection might make an author feel, I realized I was living a contradictory duality: as a writer, I internalized rejections and took them personally, while as an editor, I wanted every success for writers whose work we did not accept.  As soon as I understood that I was approaching the process of rejecting with compassion and empathy, I knew that I had to interpret rejections I received in the same way.  While I can’t presume to know how other editors approach rejection, assuming that they do so with a measure of compassion has certainly lessened rejection’s emotional blow.

Submit A LOT.  My friend and fellow writer Annette shared Kim Liao’s wonderful piece on aiming for 100 rejections a year with our writing group, and this piece has subsequently changed my approach to submissions and my thinking about rejections.  In her article, Liao recommends striving for 100 rejections per year, rather than aiming for a certain number of acceptances.  As she says, “If I had gone into last year shooting for five acceptances, it would have felt way too ambitious. I would have approached submitting timidly, or not taken chances on big name journals or competitive fellowships.”  Acceptances are unpredictable; rejections? Psh, those things are a dime a dozen.

By aiming for 100 rejections, you are of course setting yourself the subtle goal of submitting a lot, which means you’ve written a lot, revised a lot, and ultimately grown as a writer.  I can also totally vouch for Liao when she says, “Since I’ve started aiming for rejections, not acceptances, I no longer dread submitting. I don’t flinch (much) when I receive inevitable form rejection emails. Instead of tucking my story or essay apologetically into a bottle and desperately casting it out to sea, I launch determined air raids of submission grenades, five or ten at a time. I wait for the rejections, line up my next tier of journals, and submit again.”

Revenge submit!  This is my own personal favorite method.  Nothing says I’ll show themlike taking that freshly rejected story and shipping it off to another venue! Work your way through your submission tiers, pausing to re-evaluate the strength of your story after about 10 rejections or so.  I’ve had a story accepted with as few as 0 rejections and as many as 12. The rush of revenge submitting will help you get over any rejection discouragement you may be feeling.

And finally, perhaps my simplest bit of advice:

Say “Not Accepted” instead of “Rejected.”  Rejection is a bit of a head game, but you’ve got a tool you can use in your favor: language.  In my excel spreadsheet, where I record all of my submissions data, I mark rejected submissions as “Not Accepted.”  That tweak in the language reminds me that this one piece was not a good fit for one particular magazine at one specific moment in time.  “Not Accepted” is not a hard no; “Not Accepted” means not now or not yet.  “Not Accepted” means keep going.

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