Anyone who’s ever submitted a short story to a magazine or a novel to a traditional publisher knows that sinking feeling: Rejection. “I’ve been rejected!” you cry — sometimes just to yourself; other times out loud. The old days were great for this. The publisher sent you a letter you could flourish as you ran through the house foaming at the mouth and shrieking. These days they arrive by email, and you can’t get the same dramatic effect. Unless you print them out. Sufficith to say, if you’ve been in the writing business any length of time and you send your work out, you’ll have had to deal with rejection.
Sometimes these rejections are pleasant; someone has actually taken the time to try to soften the blow. Sometimes they’re terse as publishers try to deal with their backlogs. And on the subject of backlogs, it’s unwise to send anything out after mid-November, publishers are very into clearing their desks before the new year. I once had a novel rejected by an Australian publisher by email on Christmas Eve — a decidedly Dickensian experience.
But while the chances for drama have gone down with the onset of email, the damage to the writer’s self-esteem has remained the same. Note the writer says, “I’ve been rejected.” It’s the rare writer who says, “My novel about zombies on Mars has been rejected.” The book is the writer’s baby, s/he feels the rejection personally. How to deal with this? Some writers buy a bottle of scotch; others eat ice cream or chocolate biscuits. In Transitionactional-Analysis speak, their inner child has taken a beating and needs a little comfort. Do whatever works for you. But above and beyond these immediate reactions, there is something important to remember.
And that is: Only a small percentage of the people you approach are going to accept your work, even when you’ve chosen your publisher well, with an eye to the kinds of things they publish, and your writing is good and perfectly presented. In my experience over many years, the ratio of rejections to acceptances for fiction writers is around nine to one. That is: for every acceptance, you will probably have to experience nine rejections. Statistically speaking then, every rejection brings you that much closer to the much desired acceptance.
Caveat: Working on this principle, don’t make the mistake of sending a piece of work out to ten possible publishers all at once. For one, they don’t like it, but the main reason not to do this is that you might want to make changes to the work later as time passes. Some publishers will offer a line or two of advice in their rejection letter, and this is something a writer can take on after they’ve put away the razor blades. If you’ve approached all your possible publishers at once, it’s very difficult to get them to look at your new improved version later. These people are smart. They know they’ve already seen the work (even if you change the title).
So submissions are best done one at a time. Sure, it takes longer, but you’re in this business for the long haul – aren’t you? In the meantime, you get on with your work. You go on to the next project and work on that. Just remember: writing is a marathon, not a sprint. This applies as much to short stories as to novels. If you’re feeling too down to write after the hangover has worn off and you’ve gotten over the ice cream/chocolate fest, use your time well, make it count. Do an editing course if you can afford it. Buy an ebook on writing if you can’t. (Sol Stein is great for this.)
Just remember the mantra: One in ten, one in ten. No use complaining. That’s how it is.
One of the greatest weapons in a writer’s arsenal is resilience.