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Rejection letters: Badge of Honor?

We've all heard the stories about famous authors collecting hundreds of rejection letters before they ever saw their name in print. It helps to know others have suffered.  It encourages us to keep going, because they did, and look where they are now.

However, I think there's a danger in viewing  rejection letters as some kind of 'badge of honor'.  

When trying to get published, rejection is a necessary, and painful, part of the process, but submitting your work to an agent/editor doesn't make you a writer (after all, anyone with an envelope and a stamp can do that), any more than getting turned down by the army would make you a soldier.   

Sure you need a thick skin, and you have to get up one more time than you're knocked down, but there's more to it than that.  There's a huge difference between a 'writer' and a ' collector of rejection letters'.  It goes without saying that the work has to be good to start with, but before you even think of sending it off, you need to re-read, revise, rewrite, repeat until it's the best you can make it. 

When that's done (and in the case of short stories BEFORE that's done), you need to research the market.  One of editors' top peeves is that people submit work that clearly doesn't belong in their magazine. 

If  your story/manuscript gets rejected out hand, you need to stop and ask yourself why?  Otherwise there's a good chance the same thing will happen when you send it out next time.  Maybe you feel it can't be improved.  You may be right, but it doesn't hurt to check.  There are plenty of reasons why your work didn't get accepted which have nothing to do with quality or your target publication (right story/wrong time, too similar to a previous one etc.).

The bottom line though, is that if you believe in your work, and feel the agent/editor you queried was the right one, then rejection should hurt, otherwise why send it out in the first place? 

I'm not saying you shouldn't be proud of your 'Dear Sir/Madam, not for us...' collection, I'm just saying it's the acceptance letters that prove you're a writer.

Then again, that's just my opinion.

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( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 19th, 2009 01:47 pm (UTC)
I think you're right, and wrong.

I think the 'I fought in the rejection wars' stories are the sort of stories established authors can trot out to push authors on the starting rungs on. When you first start, you are going to get rejected a lot. If you can see that X also got rejected all the time it'll push you on. It's nice to know it's not only you.

Of course, collecting rejections letters is foolish. Every one you get should hurt and after the millisecond of childish 'OMFG! THEY DID NOT UNDERSTANDS MY GENIOUS*!!!!" tantruming. Should lead to you going over what got rejected again trying to work out why, whether it's your choice of market or your story.

I'd say a mix of rejection and acceptance proves your a writer. the acceptance proves you've got the chops. The rejections that you have the wherewithal to carry on even when it seems like no one wants what you're doing.

*Tongue firmly in cheek.
Jan. 19th, 2009 04:42 pm (UTC)
The trouble is, when you hear about someone like Jodi Picoult getting a hundred rejections before her first acceptance, it's easy to assume that she made no changes or revisions to her work during that time. I doubt that's the case.

Rather than 'rejection wars', I'd rather hear the 'If I knew then what I do now' stories from established authors.
Jan. 19th, 2009 04:51 pm (UTC)
"'If I knew then what I do now' stories from established authors. "

I'd also be an avid reader of that. Then would doubt all the little habits I use to keep me going and wish I hadn't. Then read it again. Rpt.

There is a line with changing things though. You have to be able to get a rejection (or just a frantic editing head on) and be able to think, 'well, this story does what I want it to. I think that got rejected due to taste.'

Otherwise you can go so far into writing what other people want that you lose sight of what you were trying to do. Drawing that line is a pig though. I'd be interested on how people approach that.

I am rambling in type form and may well be talking rubbish.
Jan. 19th, 2009 05:05 pm (UTC)
I'm not saying you have to make changes for the sake of it, but I do think an awful lot of work gets pitched to the wrong place and before it's ready.
Jan. 20th, 2009 02:06 am (UTC)
Certainly you shouldn't make changes for the sake of it. You should always have reasons behind making changes. Even if the reason is as simple as "I think this works better."

I think that learning both, how to get your work in front of the right people, and learning when it's actually ready to go before someone, are parts of the job.

I think though, absent specific feedback, there's a major danger with trying to review your story every time it gets rejected. Absent specific feedback, there is the potential to continuously second guess yourself, and instead of moving forward with new ideas and new stories, you could end up spending lots of time "fixing" a story that just isn't right for the market.

Further, you may never, ever get *that* one story right. You might not realize or have enough experience yet to figure out why you didn't get that story right. So you could soak up much more time in revision that will never pay off.

And that's another part of the learning curve. How to figure out when it's worth the time to think about another revision. Or, and this is the painful truth, when you just have to say: that story was a learning experience and it's never going to get sold. I have to retire it.

Few people I know delight in the idea that something they've put effort into gets written off. But there is a point where you can over polish a piece, and end up doing more harm than good.

I will agree, however, that the goal shouldn't be to collect rejections. Yes, I think you should have a little pride in the fact that you are willing to put your work out there. And I certainly keep track of all my rejections, and keep them in a folder. Why? To keep good records. Being able to keep records and show proof that you are making good effort to earn income, could be useful come tax time. (according to many more successful writers than myself.) But it also allows you to examine and track progress. If all I ever get from Realms of Fantasy is the form letter, then one day I get the form letter with a note, I can see how long it took me to get there. Perhaps even plot my progress in terms of effort and strategy. No guarantee it's of practical use. But if I just file the rejections in the circular file...it makes it harder to see that picture.
Jan. 20th, 2009 12:19 pm (UTC)
I don't recommend throwing rejections away. Like you said, if nothing else we need them to prove to the tax man that we're trying to get published.

I agree there's a danger in overpolishing, but I think a lot of writers have the opposite problem. They send their work out before it's ready, especially early on in their career. The euphoric feeling you get from typing the final words of your first story/novel can blind you to some simple, quite fixable, errors in format and plotline.

Mistakes that, had they been fixed, might have made the difference between 'not for us' and 'with some revision, we'd be interested'.

Excellent reasons for joining a decent critique group.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

Things What I Wrote and Other Stuff

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