When a rejection arrives, don’t stew about it: send it out to another publisher right away. Don’t rework it, don’t change it—just get it back out on the market. Once you’ve signed a contract and you’re getting paid, then you can start changing stuff to make the editor happy. Until then, don’t touch it.
Some of the stories I write I know are good. Not only do all my friends say that, but I even have a nice, handwritten letter from Ray Bradbury saying nice things about it. (I keep the letter framed and hanging on my office wall.)
So how come a story like that gets rejected over and over again? And why do the editors who reject it keep telling me how much they like it, followed by “but”—and an explanation like “we can’t use it just now, but I’m sure you’ll have no trouble finding someone to take it. Oh, and please send us your next story.”
If I’m that good, if they like the story, if they like my writing, if they want to see more of my work, then why did they reject my Ray Bradbury-approved story?
It’s hard to say.
Sometimes rejection happens because the editor just bought a couple of stories that are similar to it. Perhaps you wrote a time travel story, but he just bought two time travel stories last week and he’s had four other time travel stories in his magazine so far this year. So he just can’t buy another, no matter how good or how unique yours is.
Getting published is not just about your talent. It is not just about knowing your craft and being good at it. Being good at writing is simply a given in the world of publishing. There’s no shortage of good writers. A lot of good writers get rejected every day. Rejection is not necessarily because you’re incompetent. Often, it has nothing at all to do with your competence. It’s just a business decision. What you wrote doesn’t fit the need of the publication right now. Sometimes that’s really all it is.
So what do you do?
One of the most important traits for any author is perseverance. Giving up is the one surefire way to avoid getting published.
In baseball, a good hitter is one that makes it to first base only once out of every three tries. If you fail two out of three times—if you fail 66 percent of the time—then you are a very good hitter. And every time you get up to bat, you may see several balls go past you before you get that hit. You might get two strikes, maybe two or three foul balls, and two or three balls that miss the strike zone before you swing, connect and hit it so that the ball falls between the opposing players—and you scramble fast enough to get on base. Or maybe you get on base only because one of the players on the other side did something idiotic. It counts, but you still know you should have been out.
Writing is the same way. There is a whole lot of failing along the way, and a whole lot of luck—even when you’re on the pro level.
So don’t give up! Don’t get discouraged. Keep at it. That’s the only way you’ll ever get anywhere.
This segment of Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem, “If” describes how you, as a writer, must live:
If you can make one heap of all your winningsAnd risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,And lose, and start again at your beginningsAnd never breathe a word about your loss;If you can force your heart and nerve and sinewTo serve your turn long after they are gone,And so hold on when there is nothing in youExcept the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'…
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son.
I would tweak Kipling’s last phrase to, “you’ll be a writer, my friend.”
Remember: rejections are not personal. There is no grand conspiracy to keep you from getting published. The editor doesn’t have it in for you. Don’t write back and argue. Don’t post nasty things on your blog about how “that publisher” doesn’t care about new writers. Take it like an adult. Take it in silence. Move on. Keep writing. Keep trying.
How do you know you’re a writer? By how much you’ve been rejected—and by how much you come back and try, try again.