To be a step ahead, one needs to be prepared for anything. In preparation in submitting stories to open calls I researched how to take rejection. I read online articles about receiving constructive criticism, I looked up famous authors who were infamously rejected, and I read inspirational messages about moving forward and keeping my chin up. So, I wasn't surprised when, after waiting semi-patiently for a month after submitting my first story, I received a rejection letter in my email.
I wasn't surprised, but it hurt none-the-less. I quickly clicked out of my email, but after the letter had disappeared from my screen I tried not to think about the "no" stewing inside my computer, demanding me to look at it and cry. Every cell in my body quieted. My heart retreated deep into my chest. Disappointment raged over me, because even though I had tried to prepare myself for any outcome, it is difficult to prepare for rejection, especially when one has hope—because hope makes room for the possibility of discouragement. The crux of the situation is to not lose hope when rejection is dealt out.
Rejection is an interesting business. It's a disagreement on what's wanted. I wanted to be accepted, but the editors decided my story wasn't the right fit. I prepared my manuscript per requested specs, I had the story proof read, and I double checked any and all logistics of the format, yet it was decided that my story didn't match or belong to their publication, and they were probably right—it is their publication after all. But being rejected, especially after all the effort I made to be sure I submitted what I thought they wanted, could have been easily taken as "you're not good enough." But that's not what a rejection letter is. A rejection letter isn't calling the story awful, it isn't saying that the writing is terrible, and it is definitely not saying that the author isn't good enough. In the end, all the rejection letter is truly saying is "not this time."
That's what I learned from my rejection research. Editors and publishers will say "thanks, but no thanks" to stories that, although well-written, don't match the mood or theme of the publication, isn't the genre of story they're looking for, or just aren't the right fit. Submissions may also not make the grade because of the competition. As good as I believed my story to be, there may have been a better one. That's going to happen. No matter the reason, the next step was to be hopeful. Yes, I was disappointed, but I wasn't disheartened—and that may be all the difference between a "could have been" and a success story.
Don't get me wrong, I know nobody looks forward to rejection. I think most people are afraid of it. I am. There are countless ventures I decided not to do because I was afraid to fail. Whether it was trying out for a team, speaking up in class, or telling someone how I truly felt, the fear of rejection stopped me. But when someone wants to move forward in any endeavor, taking failure in stride and consuming criticism as constructive is a good way to do so.
My rejection letter didn't give any feedback, it didn't tell me why the editors decided against my story or what I could have done better, and it definitely didn't tell me "nice try, Sport" and give me a trophy for participation, but I liked my story. So, I re-read it, found some places I wanted to improve on, and edited it. I submitted again to a different publisher. I played the waiting game, doing my best to fight off the fantasies of tearing up the story if it was rejected again. I looked over some of my favorite inspirational quotes, found during my rejection-research, to give me a boost while I waited, but the fear of a second rejection whispered to me and laughed at me. After a few weeks, my phone pinged, alerting me to an email in my inbox. I checked who sent it, but didn't open the email right away. It was the editors. The whispers and laughter intensified.
"Sometimes," I told myself as I finally clicked open the email on my phone. "A writer has to be rejected 100 times before they are accepted once." My eyes scanned the email. A smiled blossomed over my face. "The universe just gave me an IOU of 99 rejection letters."
Although the story was accepted, my next story was rejected—and rejected again and again until it found the right home. It's a dance that I will have to repeat, and maybe one day be comfortable with, if I want to strive forward with my writing. But I believe that I, and anyone, can do it as long as there is dedication in hope.
For more information on handling rejection letters, please visit these helpful websites:
Terrible Minds—25 Things Writers Should Know About Rejection
Aerogramme Writer's Studio—12 Famous Writers on Literary Rejection
Writer's Relief—Famous Author Rejection Letters: True Stories Of Unbelievable Rejections
Mental Floss—10 Rejection Letters Sent to Famous People