Hello friends, newcomers, etc. It’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog post. Rather, it’s been a long time since I felt I had something worth blogging about. Recently, I’ve had a spurt of poetry submissions flying from my desk. As I’ve said time and time again, I never thought of myself as a poet. Yet, that particular form seems to be the only one my mind is capable of creating as of late.
Thankfully, I’ve had some good luck. I have a poem coming out in a magazine. I also have a short story being published in an anthology. Did I mention I’m also getting paid for these publications? As many of my writer friends know, it’s hard to find a paid publication, especially ones that take on new, unsolicited manuscripts.
Even though I’ve had so many positive outcomes from my publishing pursuits, and I’ve made sure to document it all on social media, there’s something I haven’t really talked about with anyone.
For every one acceptance email/letter I receive, I get about 10 of these:
Why do I bring this up? Because I almost always post on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. about all of my accomplishments. No one sees the rejections. While, yes, it is a good bit disheartening to see a rejection in my mailbox, I am proud of my rejections. I am not ashamed. I created something I felt was worthy of being read. I put it out in the world to be judged, knowing that it may get thrown out, and my work does get thrown out. A lot.
Have I been ashamed? Oh yes. Countless times I’ve seen a rejection and instantly regretted ever sending any work out. There are plenty of rejection letters that my friends, family, and readers will never hear about. However, I wonder sometimes what my writer friends think. I know I like their posts and cheer them on for every success, but what about when they feel like they’ve failed? I feel like I fail 10x more than I succeed. I don’t want them to feel like they are alone. I want them to be proud of those rejections. I also don’t want them to be afraid of rejection because rejections do happen, especially to those who achieve success. You can’t have rainbows without rain, and all that jazz.
Be proud. Keep writing. Keep submitting. Be writers.
Being an independent writer, I often times forget that I can fail, and when I do I often have trouble admitting so. It’s not that I don’t like failing… I mean, I don’t, who does? But what I’m getting at is most of the time failing doesn’t bother me. It didn’t used to, anyway. Most of it is because my failings are mostly self-contained. I write a piece of garbage, I read it, and I realize it is indeed garbage. I laugh, then throw it out. Simple as that, no harm done. Well, I recently sent out a few pieces of poetry I thought were decent, if not some of my best, as egotistical and vain as that sounds.
One of the journals was known for giving scathing feedback if they felt a piece was not worthy of the public eye, and out of respect for the journal I will not be posting their name. I knew this, though I was naive to think I wouldn’t receive any. Well, as I’m sure you can infer, I heard back from all journals with all rejections. The ones without any feedback I simply put away in my drawer, but one particular journal, the one which gave hard, scathing feedback, sent me more than just a simple rejection. It wasn’t just one page of feedback, but three.
There were three pages of “trying too hard” and “unrefined,” “unoriginal” and “without a commandment of language.” I was floored. I read each page three or four times, careful to note how many times each of those phrases and words came up. I had never been told these things in my life. I don’t think I’ve ever received that much feedback. I spent the good part of the night just staring at these pages. I felt worthless, and I felt utterly betrayed. Though the betrayal was not toward the journal, more so at my friends, family, and kind strangers or teachers who had told me all the opposite had been true.
I had always been told my work was “original” “well-crafted” and that I had a “talent,” which would ultimately lead to mass success in the future. Had they all been lies? Probably most of them. At my age and with enough rejection letters to re-wallpaper my house, I know I am not God’s gift to the literary world. I’m not the best writer, and I probably never will be. I’d be ignorant and foolish to think otherwise. Regardless, I’ve always had confidence in what I’ve done, that I did have something of a talent. While not perfect, I always thought I had enough that with enough practice I could at least match the greatness found within works by my fellow aspiring authors.
After reading this review? I felt embarrassed, mortified, and that all I had done had been an utter waste. Eventually, I just put the feedback in my drawer and went to bed. I didn’t write another word for three or four days. I no longer felt confident in what I had been working on for so long. What was the point when all of it would result in failure? Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a writer after all.
Then, a close friend gave the above quote as a gift, already framed and ready to be hung on my wall. I was stunned. This quote couldn’t have come at a better time. It was by Teddy Roosevelt, and reads:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
– Teddy Roosevelt (“Citizenship in a Republic: The Man in the Arena” speech delivered 23 April, 1910 in Paris, France)
Now this, just as I did with the scathing feedback, I read over and over and over… Particularly, “who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and cruel souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
I had forgotten that failure in itself is a triumph. I did something most people would never do. I faced rejection, and while I still was, in fact, rejected, I still had tried. I had feedback I could utilize to fuel my drive and make my writing better. The only real reason I had failed was because I had perceived my rejection as a failure, when I should have viewed it as a success. I had done something wrong, but I could fix it. I would be cold no longer. I would this rejection to fuel my fire and rage on, in hopes of triumphing and publishing more and more work.
Rejection comes with the territory of writing. It happens, but I must remember that feedback and reviews will also come along… and they won’t always pat my butt and make me feel good. Rejections aren’t failures, they are small triumphs to success.
This quote now hangs above my desk, where I usually read rejections and write my stories and poems. It is a reminder that:
It is only failure when you give up. Keep writing, and keep trying. Don’t ever let your fire go cold, as corny as that may sound.
I hope this post serves as your reminder to never give up, too. Thanks for reading.
Want to be a beta reader? Click here to fill out the contact sheet, and let me know! Want to guest post? Want to trade posts?
Same goes to you! Don’t be shy!
I’d rather fail doing what I love, than succeeding at something I hate.
Call me an idiot, but I’m just telling you the truth.
Writing is a life of rejection. The moment you decide to start on the path of professional writing, you are setting yourself up for a certain amount of failure – some more than others, but there’s almost always failure somewhere along the way. I’ve learned a lot about rejection, and this isn’t the first time I’ve written about rejection. And I’ve always said to never quit, to keep trying, no matter what, to obtain your dream.
But sometimes, it is time to quit.
Now, when I say “quit,” I don’t mean to quit writing. I mean it may be time to move on, to quit pushing that story, that poem, or that manuscript. It’s time to move on to other things and to focus on something that may have a better chance out in the world. While I am a self-published author, I also go out and send out short stories and poems, which I’ve actually had published every once in a while. Self-publishing is wonderful and can be an amazing learning experience, but it leaves little room for learning that painful lesson of rejection. It’s intensely humbling, and can range from mild to intense depression, but there are lessons to be learned, and today I hope to share a few of these lessons with you today. Hopefully, after reading this, if you’re going through a rejection of any kind, you will feel sadness, but know it isn’t the last rejection. You are a creative mind. Keep writing, keep earning those rejections and wear them like badges upon your chest. Be proud of rejection. Some people fear it so much, they never even attempt to be published. If you are reading this and haven’t attempted contests, literary journals, or agents because you fear rejection, let me go ahead and tell you:
I’ve been rejected 104 times as of March 12, 2014. It will probably be even more by the time this post is published. And that’s okay. At least I have tried. That’s what is most important. Now, onward to the list!
Markets you may fit best in… One key factor in successfully publishing is knowing what market you fit in. Some are better at short stories, others poetry. Some can do fantasy, others can rock out some non-fiction. I’ve had more poems published than I have short stories, surprisingly enough, and I have never claimed to being good at writing poetry.
Where you can improve… Have you been rejected in your chosen market? Have you received any feedback or critique? If you’re not making it in your chosen market, it might be time to line up some beta readers, or to read some books in your genre/form. Everyone can improve. J.K. Rowling was rejected PLENTY of times prior to her success in fantasy. Failure can be just as rewarding as success if you let it.
You (your work) may need to change… In the end, the hard truth may be that you’re not cut out for that market. That’s not to say you won’t ever be. But why focus so hard on one market when there are so many more out there? Not working out with poetry? Ok, while you’re still working out the kinks, try your hand at some short stories, work on a novel, or maybe even try a different poetry form. Blogging may also be your niche! You won’t get anywhere just by resubmitting the same piece over and over and over without working on it and even upping your cred by sending out other stuff. Who knows? You may find your calling.
Even if you thought it was perfect, you may need to edit it more… I’ve done this plenty of times, especially when I first started sending out manuscripts. When I thought I could edit all of my own stuff to perfection and that I could find every plot hole… Well guess what, I was wrong. Every piece needs work, and could be edited more. Even famous novels can still be found with little errors in them… The point isn’t perfection, it’s getting close enough that people can read your story without distraction. If you find your story still is getting rejected, you may need to take it back to the drawing board and get to editing.
Beta readers/Editors/Honest strangers can be your friends… Sometimes you need to listen to those you might have brushed off. Beta readers? Ha! What do they know? Except perhaps what they like and what they don’t like, which might be similar to what your audience and your markets like or dislike. This goes for editors and strangers, as well. No one wants to be mean. Unless they’re dicks, in which case that’s all they want to do. But being honest and being mean are completely different things. A good editor/friend/STRANGER will be honest and tell you when something just isn’t working and it might be time to move on.
There are always more stories… I haven’t heard of anyone who only ever had one story to tell. Life is made up of a bunch of different stories. If one doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean the next will be the same. However, wasting all your time on one piece isn’t getting you anywhere. It could actually be hindering you from finding that piece you actually publish.
In the end, just keep writing. Write until you can’t write anymore, even if you never publish a single thing. Writing is about the journey, about learning and growing as a writer, and in general just doing what you love. Write because you love it.
Love what you do.
Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know, and comment below.
Thanks for reading.
Want to be a beta reader? Click here to fill out the contact sheet, and let me know! Want to guest post? Want to trade posts?
Same goes to you! Don’t be shy!
We’ve all heard the statistics. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter was rejected twelve times before achieving publication, George Orwell was told he would never become an author, etc. That’s all good and humbling for them, but there is a problem when comparing their short-comings to mine: They are now world-renowned and beloved authors. They have written books that will stand the test of time, along with their names and images. I don’t mean to be bitter, but it’s an honest opinion of mine. How is comparing my rejection to that of a best-seller equal?
I originally wrote this post to express my agitation and anger over being rejected, but as I began to write, I realized I was taking a step backward. I could rant as much as I wanted, but it would not change the fact that I was rejected. So, after I cleaned my wounds and bandaged myself up, I decided to make a post dedicated to dealing with and overcoming the pain of rejection.
ADMIT THAT REJECTION IS INEVITABLE This is something all aspiring writer’s need to realize. When you decide to dedicate your life to writing and publication, there will come a time where you will get rejected. Not every story you write will be accepted by the first agent/publisher/literary journal you send it to. This is a major trial-and-error process. You’ll get it or you won’t, but there is always something to learn from every rejection.
DON’T FEAR A SECOND REJECTION If you’ve been rejected once, you’ll probably be rejected again, but don’t allow that rejection to completely stun you into a non-writing coma. A rejection is not the end. You have so much more to write, and so many more things to learn.
IF YOU’RE GIVEN FEEDBACK, DON’T THROW IT OUT Not everyone is this way, but when I find I have been rejected, my immediate reaction is usually anger. If the letter is the run-of-the-mill rejection, I will usually just toss it out and burn it with my gaze from the comfort of my couch. If it has a specialized note on it, for some reason I find that even more offensive and may actually burn it. With fire. But in the end, I realize my anger was for naught. Feedback is hard to come by and is usually there because you were very, very, very close to making it in. Take their feedback as a compliment because chances are, they probably want you to resubmit with the revisions, and the rejection could easily become an acceptance.
YOU’RE A WRITER. BE STUBBORN. As Jon Stone pointed out to me on Twitter, “sometimes the biggest difference between ‘someone who writes’ and a ‘writer’ is the sheer refusal to take no for an answer.” This single statement motivated me to keep going. He’s completely right. If you truly want to write and become a full-fledged writer, don’t let a single ‘no’ break you to pieces. It may be the first, but it won’t be the last. Get tougher and make sure to keep writing/submitting.
KEEP WRITING. USE YOUR EMOTIONS.
The worst thing you can do to yourself is to stop writing. That’s like punishing yourself for the rejection. You can only get better by continuing to write. The more you write, the better your style will become. The better your style becomes will help with your editing. You will become a much better writer and there will be a better chance at success your next time around. Plus, if you’re angry or hurt, use those emotions to write. Some of my best work came from points in my life where I was in a heightened emotional state. Your own experiences are the best inspiration. Keep writing.
REWRITE AND RESUBMIT. Just because a particular manuscript gets rejected does not mean it is a terrible story. A lot of the time you will have an intriguing story, but the writing needs some work. Learn from your mistakes. Change some things around. Hire an editor the next time. Get different beta readers. Once you have it in a new and better way, send it off again, but give it time. Don’t submit to the same people right away. Let them have time to move on to other things and give yourself a chance to edit, edit, edit, and edit some more. Make it the best it can be before you send it off again.
THERE IS ALWAYS INDIE PUBLISHING
A disclaimer: This is not an answer to all your problems. No one is guaranteed success in this business. Whether you go the traditional route or self-publish, there is no guarantee. There are lessons to be learned from both, but if time goes on and you find you just can’t seem to get your foot in the door traditionally, try it out. Make sure you do your research and continue to edit. Edit a lot. Then, see where the masses take you and good luck!
I am no expert, and I am hardly a therapist, but I find all of these thoughts comforting or motivating in one way or another. Regardless, as writers we are here to support each other. I, for one, want to make sure I can help all I can in the community because I would want someone to do the same for me. So, if it will make you feel better, I have created a page dedicated to my rejection letters. Check it out here.