Rejection is hard to deal with; there’s no two ways about that. And my writing has been rejected A LOT. When I first decided to buckle down and start submitting, I was looking at all the wrong literary journals or websites or contests. I just wanted to start submitting somewhere, so I chose the places that were easiest to find. Most of those were (and many still are) out of my league or looking for a style or genre that isn’t my bag. No harm, no foul. But I racked up a lot of rejections from those places before I started finding publishers more suited to my skill and style.
Most of those numerous rejections were form rejections, except for one of the very first stories I submitted. That was for a contest, and my rejection specified that I had made into the top 25 out of hundreds of submissions.
That tidbit of information made a huge difference at the time, and it still does now almost 3 years later. A lot of writers would say that a rejection is a rejection is a rejection. But I don’t agree. I think the difference between a personalized rejection and a form rejection is huge. Finding out my story made it to the final round of judging matters. Having a publisher encourage me to submit something else in the future matters. Reading that they liked my story a great deal but it didn’t fit with the tone of their anthology matters. These, among other personalizations, mean that something about my story or style appealed to the editors or judges. Sure, I didn’t make it to an acceptance, and that still sucks, but I like knowing where my story stood in the lineup. It’s not just that a personalization softens the blow of the rejection—it’s also a way of saying my story was still good, maybe even great, but the competition was fierce. And that’s a lot easier to handle than a vague form rejection.
When I receive a personalized rejection on a story of mine I really love, that’s even better. It lets me know that someone else enjoyed it too, but it just didn’t make the final cut. It helps me submit that story elsewhere with confidence. Eventually I’ll find an editor who enjoys the story as much as I do. It’s much easier to be optimistic and to persevere when you have those little acknowledgements of a story’s worth.
The blessing and curse of writing is that often you do it alone. Even if you’re collaborating on a project, you’re likely writing your part of it in solitude. The problem with this is that the world tends to measure a writer’s success in amount of money earned or number of books/stories published. That discounts all the behind-the-scenes work: the brainstorming, the research, the drafting, the editing, the querying, the submitting. When all that work ends in a form rejection, sometimes I wonder if I’m doing something wrong. A personalized rejection lets me know I’m on the right track, reminds me that all the behind-the-scenes toiling is worthwhile, part of the process. Most of the time, that reminder is all I need to put my head down and get back to work.
A form rejection is like a door with the words GO AWAY carved on it; a personalized rejection is a door decorated with the phrase Knock Again. Sometimes, we all need the reminder that just because a door is closed now doesn’t mean it will be closed forever—sometimes one more knock is all it takes.