The Scariest Thing Imaginable: Rejection
by Jeff Strand
To many authors, the idea of getting a rejection letter is even more frightening than being haunted by a ghost or attacked by a chainsaw-wielding psychopath. It’s freakin’ terrifying! After putting all of that time, blood, sweat, and passion into your creation, you’re about to send it to an editor who may respond to all of your hard work with a form letter saying “Nah.”
Or, worse, he or she may tell you that it’s terrible, that it can’t be salvaged, and that it never should have been written in the first place if any decency still exists in the world. The editor might laugh at your submission and pass it around the office, and hurriedly warn other editors not to publish your writing because you suck. Your photograph will be stuck on the corners of monitors of editors everywhere, with a big red X over it. Career = over.
Okay, most writers aren’t that paranoid, but in speaking to a lot of aspiring authors, I’ve been surprised at how many of them don’t submit their work simply because they don’t want to face possible rejection. If they don’t send it, nobody can tell them no. No sting of the form letter. No humiliation from the checked boxes indicating that your story Lacks Strong Character Development and Does Not Resolve In A Satisfactory Manner. No handwritten snarky comments at the bottom. Not sending out your work keeps you nice and safe.
Authors should not fear rejection.
Which is not to say that you should take the opposite approach, which is to e-mail your work to every editor you can find, regardless of whether the story has any possible connection to what the publisher needs. (In my single, ill-fated attempt to edit an anthology, within minutes my in-box was flooded with completely inappropriate submissions from authors who were clearly ready to fire off those trunk stories at any market that popped up.) This type of carpet bombing approach is known by industry insiders by the technical term “lazy and stupid.” So don’t do that.
Obviously, if it’s a bad story, and you know it’s a bad story, don’t send it out. The fear of rejection usually comes at the point where you think you’re writing publishable work (maybe you are and maybe you aren’t), but you’re not sure that anybody beyond your family, friends, and the too-nice people in your critique group will agree. Maybe you’ve dreamed of seeing your name in the pages of Cemetery Dance magazine, and you truly believe that this story just may be good enough, it’s the best thing you’ve ever written… but what if they say no?
What if you get rejected hundreds of times before somebody accepts your work? What if you run out of room in your house to use them as wallpaper? How could you possibly work up the energy to write another story if so many people have told you “NO!” on your others? How can you live through the shame?
Here’s the key:
Once you get that acceptance, none of your rejections count anymore! Seriously! When you’re doing an interview and you’re talking about your deal with Random House, nobody is going to say “Yeah, well, I heard that your manuscript didn’t meet Bantam’s present needs!” Think about which of the following people you have less desire to punch in the face:
Author #1. “I racked up hundreds of rejections over years of hard work, but I refused to give up, and then one day I finally got that acceptance letter and my scream of joy was so loud that the neighbors called the police.”
Author #2. “I finished my first novel, and it was accepted by the very first agent who read the query, and within two days we had a book deal.”
For successful authors, their previous rejections are practically a badge of honor. J.K Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected by a dozen publishers, and you don’t hear her shouting “Don’t tell anybody about that! I’ll be shamed!”
If you believe in your work, send it out. It will get rejected. That’s fine. Cry a bit, kick an non-valuable inanimate object, consider the feedback if any was provided, give it another read, and send it out again. Because trust me, when you get that “Yes! We want it!” e-mail, the pain of all of those other rejections vanishes.
Save your fear for other things, like the looming zombie apocalypse.
You can check out Jeff’s work on his Gleefully Macabre website: Jeff Strand
Ty is an author in the horror genre. To learn more about his work, visit: Ty Schwamberger