It’s time to pop some bubbly because I got the best rejection letter ever. It came from a highly esteemed literary magazine (insert raised pinky here) with a reputation for publishing amazing emerging and established writers. They said my writing was “clear and concise,” that they were “very impressed,” and that I should “feel encouraged by this short note” and send them something else. BOOM. I’m tempted to put it on the mantel.
Unconvinced rejection should be something to celebrate? Try being a writer. Anyone who attempts writing will face rejection at some point, and those trying to be good writers face rejection over and over again. And again. And again. So much so that rejection takes on different shades of rejected-ness. There have been blog posts about what your rejection letter really means, from semi-congratulatory rejections to constructive rejections to meek, flat auto-responses that suggest a robot read your story instead of a human. There are people who celebrate every rejection because it symbolizes getting that much closer to an acceptance. There are also those people who cherish rejection letters enough to wallpaper their bathrooms with them.
Based on personal experience and the advice of other well-rejected writers, I’ve compiled a short list of must-dos after getting a rejection letter. Whether it’s a form letter, a thoughtful rejection, or a flat NO, here are a few things you might want to try in the aftermath:
- I mean it. If you got a rejection with some feedback or praise for your work, really go nuts. Even if you received a basic form letter with “you suck” undertones, rejoice! That means you’re one step closer to getting where you’re supposed to be. At the very least, it’s a sign you’ve put yourself out there, which takes courage. No lit mag—poorly funded, highly esteemed, trendy, or otherwise—can take that away from you.
- Get back to writing. Waiting anywhere from two weeks to nine months to get a response back about your submission can be maddening. The only thing you can do to lesson that madness is by writing and forgetting all about the submissions game. In the vast expanse of time between submitting and getting a response, you’ll grow as a writer and gain perspective. Maybe that story you sent out wasn’t so great after all, or maybe it just needs a little tweaking. But since you’ve been writing that whole time, you’ll likely have something new to polish, which brings me to the next step…
- Submit again. This is such an important step—for women especially. If a lit mag says they want to see more of your work, then send them something. Don’t let the negativity of the rejection cloud over the huge positive that they asked for more. Another thing to consider: you might be at “no” number 447, but unless you resubmit, you’ll never know if your 448th submission will be the first big, fat “yes.”
When anticipating rejection, we all know how we’re going to react. Our minds already go there. My personal favorite reaction is to curl into the fetal position and weep before wailing at the sky, “Why doesn’t anyone love me?” But when we try to imagine a successful outcome, suddenly our vision blurs. Our ability to read the future becomes unreliable. Why is that? Are we really afraid we’ll succeed or does it have more to do with a fear of the unknown? I tend to think the latter.
I’d also argue that how you choose to handle rejection is way more important than how you handle success. If you can pick yourself back up and keep going despite every urge to lie in the road and play dead, then you’re better off in more ways than one. Rejection can be a powerful motivator or an excuse to give up, depending on how you look at it. Don’t be afraid of those closed doors and robotic passes, but don’t be afraid of the inevitable successes either. Because, if at first you don’t succeed—well, you know the rest.