Rejections are a staple of the writing life.
That sounds harsh, doesn’t it? But it’s true. I have a notebook where I track the status of all my short story submissions. I’ve recorded roughly forty titles in it from 2019.
How many of those got accepted? Two. And how many were rejected? Well, all the rest.
Should I quit writing and pursuing publication? No. The roadblocks are learning experiences, and if I maintain a positive attitude, I’m better prepared to handle (or even break through) the next one. By sharing a few tips that have worked for me, I hope to help you overcome the same discouragement and press on.
Separate Yourself from Your Story
When you receive a rejection, remember this important truth: it’s aimed at a single story, not you as a writer. The editor wasn’t interested in your material, but she turns down a slew of submissions each week for a multitude of reasons. Don’t take her decision personally or jump to the conclusion that you’re a terrible writer.
Maybe your story does need more refining, but that won’t always be the case. Maybe the magazine rarely publishes the genre you’re writing, or its upcoming issues are already filled with content. Maybe the editor would have welcomed another story from you, but the one you sent didn’t match what she was looking for. Sometimes even a brilliant story won’t find a home immediately. I’ve seen this happen at Havok Publishing. An author offers us an absolutely stunning story, but it doesn’t fit the theme we’re currently featuring. Sadly, we then have to reject it—but not because of poor quality.
A rejection isn’t a jab against you as a writer. Evaluate the situation as best you can, revise your story or brainstorm a new one, and submit to a different place. Next time you might get a yes!
A rejection means you had the courage to show your writing to a professional, and that deserves to be rewarded. If you view rejection as another accomplishment under your belt, you’ll reduce the sting. Binge-watch your favorite Netflix show, splurge on a new book, or indulge in an activity you usually sacrifice for writing time. Give yourself room to breathe!
Another refreshing exercise is to write without boundaries. When I was on a submissions kick, I would research the publication I was targeting and write a piece that adhered to their style and genre guidelines. I got stuck in a rut of always writing for others. When I finally freed myself, the story I wrote was much better than anything I’d produced beforehand. It even ended up being acquired. Hint: don’t underestimate the power of writing what you love!
Pay Attention to the Editor’s Feedback
After you’ve distanced yourself from the rejected manuscript, return to it and think about why it didn’t catch the editor’s eye. If she took the time to include comments in the email or document, listen carefully and view that as a good sign. I’ve received incredibly kind and helpful rejection emails before, as well as generic ones, so the response can vary.
Did the editor mention that your story’s plot wavered? Or that the protagonist needed a better arc? Editors have made both of those notes on my stories, and they were right! Heeding their advice strengthened my stories.
However, although an editor’s insight is invaluable, don’t feel obligated to follow her every suggestion, especially if you each have differing visions for the piece. If her input will improve your story and increase your chances of gaining acceptance elsewhere, then apply it. But if the recommended change is a matter of her preference versus yours, rely on your own judgement. Ask a trusted writing friend for her opinion too.
Perseverance is the mark of a resilient writer. Don’t let your first, twentieth, or fiftieth rejection stop you. You never know when you’ll succeed. The first short story I ever submitted was rejected, but the second one was accepted. Other times I’ve submitted dozens of stories until one yes made all the effort worthwhile!
Do whatever is necessary to continue moving forward. Polish your manuscript more and send it off again, dabble in a new genre, or revive an old story. Research different publishing houses to approach. Maybe grab one of those plot bunnies that’s been plaguing you for years!
Does an athlete quit because he lost one game? You bet your books he doesn’t. And writers don’t either. Keep throwing your writing out there until you hit the goal!
Savannah Grace is a Nebraska-born-and-raised author who loves writing—and reading—a good speculative story, because there’s no better place to escape than a book. When she’s not lost in (or creating!) other worlds, she can be found making a mess with watercolors, laughing way too loudly, or eating as much Korean food as she can get her hands on. She’s the submissions manager for Illuminate YA and an associate editor for Havok Publishing.
Savannah has had multiple short fiction pieces published in various places and loves helping writers hone their craft. You can find her blogging at savannahgracewrites.blogspot.com, posting sporadically on her YouTube channel (Savannah Grace), or finally finding a use for all her book pictures over on Instagram (@savannahgraceauthor). She’d love to chat with you!