Rejection stings. No matter how many form letter rejections you receive, each one comes with its own unique wince or feigned indifference (I tend toward the latter). My anonymous rebuffs have come in several different forms over the years: whole sheets of paper with two sentences, tiny squares of paper with two sentences, short emails with two sentences, a list of winners not including me, and—probably the worst—silence.
Some writers like to collect these rejections as badges of honor, a museum of hard work and revision. After I received my first one, I know I meant to keep it and all the future ones in a file. However, I lost that file long ago, and I have no desire to start a new one.
The point of writing is not about looking back at failures, pitfalls, and raw drafts. It’s about creation, revision, and polish. Rejections are simply the bruises you get along the way—they often hurt, they take a while to fade, but they leave no scars.
Writers should evaluate their talent and their commitment on a fairly regular basis to determine if they have the passion to keep dodging through the minefield of submissions. If you have the gumption to keep going, then the rejection served a far better purpose.
Consider a few things when you get your next letter of seeming doom:
The writing pyramid: Rejection sets you apart. The number of people who finish a project is much lower than the number who start working on something. Then, the number who submit something is even lower still. And the number who keep reworking and resubmitting is even lower. If you’ve made it to the last group, then you should certainly consider that a significant step.
Keep juggling: One way to alleviate the sting of an individual rejection is by having a continuous queue of material. If possible, send out several stories, novel queries, articles, poems, or other materials in a staggered fashion and have several in progress and several in revision. If one is turned down, you’ve still got several being considered. It may take a while to get this “assembly line” going, but the point is to never have all your hopes riding on one project.
Stop, drop, and cull: With every rejection, I recommend putting the project aside for a cooling off period. Deciding what to do with something that has just been shot down can often lead to overreaction. Later, reflect on the work as objectively as possible—and, preferably, let others read it. Should you keep working on it? What needs to be revised—if anything? There’s no shame in shelving something.
It’s not me: Sometimes, your work may simply be rejected because it does not fit the needs of a particular publication, editor, or agent. They likely won’t have time to tell you this (though be very encouraged if they do), but if you review your work and find that it doesn’t deserve flogging, then it’s possible that you could just send it out again as is.
Whatever the case, I hope that you do not let rejection deter you from continuing pursuit of a more perfect prose.