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Let's Talk About Rejections

Originally written in August 2014

Rejections are part and parcel of the life of a writer. They are as constant as armpits and just as stinky. And if you want arms, you have to put up with armpits. And we all want arms. We need them to have hands and we need hands to write. Well sort of. Nevertheless; rejections work in the same way: you need them to keep writing. They are the slagheap on which to build your temple, and if you want it to stand high you have to keep adding that slag to that heap.

A couple of years ago I went on a submission tirade, flinging out every piece of work to every damn magazine, website, anthology, competition I could find. I had a spreadsheet to keep track of my stories and deadlines and themes, and a strict schedule. 95% were rejected or did not place or disappeared into the ether. After taking rejection barrage after rejection barrage, red-filling the little Excel cells, I did start to feel a tad woe-is-me, a little what-is-the-damn-point. It's never nice. Rejections always sting. Some harder than others, but there is always going to be that bitter twinge in your chest at the 'its not for us' line in the email. So I took a step back, took a long hard look at my body of work and tried again. I rejected some, redrafted others, and set my sights on new ideas.

And, crucially, I stopped obsessing about deadlines and call-outs and competitions. I eviscerated the spreadsheet, which felt particularly good. Instead, I wrote and maintained a body of work and kept my eyes peeled for call-outs that best suited my style and the pieces I had already written. If something popped up that looked right, I'd fling a piece in. I'd still get rejections, but not in the same morale-melting barrage as before, and I found myself getting slightly more acceptances. Slightly more.

And remember: its not a wholly easy thing for an editor to deal with either. A few years back, I was on the other side of the rejector/rejectee fence. My #Flashtag pals and I put together our first anthology of stories: Quickies: Short Stories for Adults (you can still get it on Kindle and please do, its great!). We put a call out for entries with an aim for picking 8 stories for the final publication. We whittled 50 entries down to 15, then argued (and yes it was quite the heated discussion) our way to 8. The next day I sent out acceptance and rejection emails and, from the latter, got one particularly iffy response. I don't care, said the writer, my astonishingly brilliant novel is just about to get taken on by a top literary agent, so it's you lot that have missed out, not me. Hmm. That got a few bloodstreams bubbling in Flashtag Castle. Ironically, the story in question had been in the top 15 and very nearly in the top 8. It may well have been number 9. Not cool.

So how should you deal with rejections? Before your start tears start pooling between the cracks in your keyboard, read this excellent list by writing guru Chuck Wendig (my favourite being number 23: Harden the Fuck Up, Care Bear. Quite.). In sum: its always subjective, what one person hates another might love, don't take it personally, and remind yourself how many times JK Rowling got rejected before some sucker picked up Harry Potter 1. And, sometimes, just sometimes, that story what you gone and writted just aint good enough champ. Sack it off. Don't agonise: just get rid. Better still, stick it in your mindcave for future mining of its most precious nuggets. Then sit your pathetic fingers down and write something else. The human imagination is boundless, there are literally an infinitude of stories just waiting to be written and they're not going nowhere with you squirming your guts over a no from the New Yorker.

But there is one final point I would add to Wendig's list: revel in your acceptances. They will be outnumbered by, like, ten or twenty to one, but they will happen. Be proud of them. Put them on display. Package the best in a collection and flog them. You've worked hard, you've created, you've achieved; each one is a finger-smear of elixir for the self-flagellation welts on your poor back. So pat yourself, gently. Punch the air, a bit. Allow yourself a smile, but small. And then: shut up, sit down and write on.

Get Back On It

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