There’s some things in life that are easy. Brushing your teeth. Remembering your keys. Using your turn signal. Hearing the words “No, thanks." But people don't do these things all the time. So we get cavities, lock ourselves out of the house, cause traffic collisions, and do really stupid things in reaction to rejection.
I’m looking at you, writers.
I, at least, should be used to hearing, “No.” I’m not only a writer, I’m disabled. I hear, “No” all the time. “No, you can’t drive anymore.” “No, you can’t handle getting together with a bunch of friends.” “No, you can’t go to that family or college reunion.” “No, you can’t go home for the holidays.” “No, you can’t even tolerate the holidays.” I’d like to say I take rejection letters from magazines in stride, and I do, most of the time, but every once in a while one trips me up and I have a horrible day.
It just happens.
We want things. We’re animals. Our new dog, Juno, wants me to stay home all the time and that’s just not going to happen. She’s going to have to learn to deal, just like I have to learn to deal with the fact that I’ll never go to GenCon again.
Like my tolerance to being tattooed, my reaction to rejection letters improved over time. The first was devastating. I went through all the stages of grief: denial, anger, loss, depression, etc. I didn’t write for two weeks. I thought I was a failure. But I eventually went back to the keyboard and wrote another story. It got rejected too, with my second letter. That one still hit hard, and I didn’t write for two days. But … I sent that story out to be rejected eleven more times until it became my first publication last July.
Most of the rest I’ve taken in stride. Some magazines don't allow simultaneous submissions and a rejection just frees me up to send that story out somewhere else. And since I don’t have a story out to more than three places at a time, every rejection letter in means the story goes out elsewhere.
I don’t write the magazines back once they've rejected a story, no matter how amazing or uplifting the letter was, or how off the mark. Just like I never replied to a company when I didn’t get the job I applied for, the same rule applies. Even if the magazine asks me for "something new soon," that’s not an invitation to write back. I’ll rekindle that relationship with some better material that I wrote with the advice from their personal letter in mind.
While “No, thanks” may be hard to hear, it doesn’t mean your story isn’t good, or amazing. It doesn’t mean you’re a terrible writer. It doesn’t mean you don’t know what you’re doing. What it means is, “This story didn’t fit for this magazine.” If I've learned anything from selling stories, it’s all about finding the right fit for your story, not tossing pages into the wind to hope they land somewhere good (that also pays).
If you get a personal rejection letter, pay attention to what’s said, and keep that in mind if you want to submit there again.* A magazine I really admire into mentioned they didn’t like the voices I chose in two rejection letters about two different first-person narrated stories I submitted there. So this time, I submitted a third-person narrative to them. This time, their letter (which was hands-down the most uplifting and encouraging rejection letter I’ve ever received) didn’t mention the voice as a problem, only that the ending was. And I agree with them. Two days after sending this story off, I started thinking the end was too weak, and I was apparently right.
While it’s okay to sometimes forget to be okay with hearing “No, thanks” as a writer, and spend the occasional day in bed cause we really wanted that “Yes, please,” we have to be made of tougher stuff than this. Remember — we wage actual battles in our imaginations, we create the monsters that make grownups sleep with their lights on, we make villains people viscerally hate, and heroes people fall in love with. We do this, while having to withstand the firsthand assault of these images and emotional impact of the people, and witness it all over and over until it's done so we can show it to the world.
What I’m saying is, we’re badasses. I think we can take a “No, thanks” to the face just fine.
*COVER LETTER ASIDE: If you get a personal rejection letter and you took their advice in writing another story, mention that in the cover letter. One sentence will do. Don’t go overboard — show off in the piece, not the cover letter. As for cover letters, mine list only the word count of the story, the genre, the title, and whether it’s a simultaneous submission or not. If applicable: I mention if I took the advice they gave in a previous personal rejection letter, and sign off, and if they ask for a Bio, I use the first paragraph from this website — EZ PZ. As I don’t have any semi-pro or pro fiction publications, I don’t mention any publication credits. No need. Keep it short, sweet, & to the point.