Oh, sure. Just get over it. I bet it’s as easy as it sounds.
I’ll say this: rejection is easier now than when I was 17. I did not know how to take rejection when I was 17. Sometimes I’m amazed that I even tried to publish more than once.
My experience with trying to publish stretches thin over the years, but it’s experience–and so far it’s all rejection! Which I have had to deal with. I feel qualified to write this. But I also wonder how I’ll feel once I hit a rejection milestone.
How about we not think about that, shall we? I want to sound not-discouraging.
Advice For Coping With Rejection (Ganked from Others)
You think I’m kidding? What I’m about to write is what we’ve all heard before–hence the ganking–but that doesn’t mean the advice is bad. The majority of the results I got from googling “how to deal with rejection” amounted to “have a coping strategy,” which isn’t irrelevant. I’ll repeat some of my favorites here, before presenting some more concrete, hands-on strategies that I personally find more helpful, even if a therapist would probably classify them as “avoidance strategies.”
1. Form Your Bulletproof Consciousness
In a Creative Penn feature, Michael Alvear first promotes his book by mentioning all the ways it might help us achieve this bulletproof consciousness (another way of saying emotional resilience), and then discusses the most important component: knowing why you write, and also cultivating the right motivations to increase your emotional resilience. In short, knowing that you want to write for money is the first step, and the second step is finding a career other than fiction to do that writing, because only unicorns and snowflakes make money on fiction. Or so others tell me. I’m only familiar with the part where you get your ass rejected.
His example makes a point of comparing motivations such as “make money” and “publish to share the love with readers,” with the latter being more conducive to emotional resilience than money. And–yeah, I guess. Wanting to share my stories is what keeps me going, mostly. Your mileage may vary.
2. Don’t Take It Personally
Also known as:
- according to editors, they aren’t out to get you!
- also, rejections happen to everyone;
- maybe your story wasn’t right for them, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad;
- maybe they chucked your story in the trash on a really bad day.
All possibly true. This step is still hard. While I no longer take it (as) personally, rejection also still feels like you, yourself, are getting rejected.
Why the fuck do we need to have feelings, anyway? I’m done with them. You can have them back, now.
3. Rejection Can be Instructive
If you’re lucky enough to get comments from the editor, most advise treasuring it like gold. I agree. After receiving both types of rejection (with a form letter, and via personalized feedback) I prefer getting constructive criticism to work with. Are there ways I can make the manuscript better and therefore more rejection-proof? Fuck yes, dish it up and show me your wisdom!
But let’s be clear, this does not make rejection easier. It just offers an alternative activity once I’m feeling well enough to partake. No idea if this is effective though, since, y’know…
4. Talk to Other Writers
I’m pretty well fucked on this one, but it’s decent advice. If you have friends who are writers, or are the type of person who feels comfortable joining local groups or online communities, I bet this has potential.
A Few, More Concrete Strategies
I need things to do when I get rejected, or all I’ll think about is how much I hate myself. Those thoughts aren’t helpful. However, most of the time I start with taking breaks. Sometimes you need to lie down, curl up under some fluffy blankets, and stare at the wall. Or maybe that’s just me.
Picture this. Some time ago, I sent a story out for the first time in ten years. (Ten years. Some people I know were still in middle school back then.) I got a response within two weeks–which is epically fast–with “So-and-So Anthology Acceptance.”
HOLY SHIT! I thought. How completely unexpected. Fuck yeah! I opened the mail:
Hi, Amber! We’re happy to inform you that we’re accepting “STORY-THAT-DEFINITELY-ISN’T-YOURS” for publication in our anthology!
I wrote back with a polite inquiry, had a polite conversation, and found out that my actual story was a rejection, not an acceptance. The editor offered a bit of feedback (which was nice), and then I thanked her for her time and told myself that I didn’t care about how this turned out, because I was expecting a rejection anyway. It definitely didn’t matter. Nope! Not at all.
Well, spoiler: it did matter. It mattered enough that I couldn’t concentrate on writing, or reading, or gaming. I went to lie down.
Sleep is my normal (possibly weird) response to stress, but it wouldn’t happen. I stayed in bed for a few hours while the light changed and the shadows from outside moved across the ceiling. Kiva, one of our kitties, snuggled against my leg and purred up a storm. Purring has got to be the most calming sound I can think of, and yet I did not find calm. The only way I get a handle on worrying, when sending things out, is the reassurance that this shit isn’t supposed to happen, and doesn’t often. But it did. First try!
Now I’m paranoid about every submission. This is not their fault; it’s me, and I don’t know how to deal with it.
After three hours, my back started hurting and I had to get up. I sure as hell didn’t feel like doing housework–the usual way I justify my continued existence–so I sat down at my computer again and built a submission tracking sheet.
Strategy #1: Indulge in Some Administrative Bullshit
It’s a good idea to track your story submissions. You should know where you’ve sent your stories, how long it took for the market to get back to you, and where you’re sending now, etc., so you can avoid shit like sending the same story to one place twice, and then looking like an idiot. Prior to this particular rejection, I kept notes in my planner, but a spreadsheet is clearer, easier, and faster.
Your version of administrative BS might look different than mine, but here are some suggestions:
- build a submission tracker
- start a project log for your stories
- organize your notes (e.g. I transfer writing from my random papers and notepad files into a single Scrivener or Word file)
- clean or reorganize your desk
- find a free goal-setting printable (or make your own) and reorganize your goals, taking recent rejections into account
Some of these still require me to think about the rejection, which sucks, but there’s no such thing as forgetting, either, right?
A long time ago, a friend dinged me for working on project logs, which she considered irrelevant. They count as “wasting time” and “not writing,” and yet I find them quite helpful when I need to find old drafts of stories, or would like to keep track of a certain project’s growth. Doing that can be great for seeing how far you’ve come, and everywhere I turn I see advice to “acknowledge and celebrate your accomplishments,” so fuck it. How will I celebrate anything if I don’t acknowledge it’s there? And I won’t, otherwise. I know myself well enough to realize that.
Besides, spending an hour digging up old files up is a great way to numb the sting of rejection.
For an hour.
Strategy #2: Start Working on Another Story
I often use this technique to avoid anxiety associated with putting my work out there–any kind of work. I did this for fan fiction, too. The first few hours after hitting “publish” always sucked, because all I could think about was whether or not anybody would read. Perish the thought that anybody would bother commenting–but I spent a lot of time hoping for that, too. You could argue that being ignored or passed over is just another type of rejection.
Anyway, if I don’t do this directly after sending something out, I’ll definitely have it on my list of things to do after a rejection. For example: I’m pretty sure the result of my most recent submission, whatever it is, will drop in November, or possibly December.
Guess I’m doing Nanowrimo this year! Talk about no time to worry. Since we’re not allowed to start writing early, I’m using the two weeks leading up to November to do some development work. I may not be able to follow an outline, but I can damn well decide how tall my point-of-view character is, and what she’ll use as her alias.
It helps. I still worry about the fate of my submission, but working on this story keeps me creative, and my mind stays occupied. Still, I’m really not looking forward to another rejection.
Strategy #3: Start Editing
If you feel up to the work, look at your story again. Are there areas that need improvement after all? If the editor gave you feedback, check it out again and consider it seriously. I wrote above that rejection can be instructive. While the rejection I described earlier wasn’t the greatest experience, the editor did take the time to comment on my story, and I do think that she has a point. I see potential improvements, if I care to pursue them.
Maybe, just maybe, making those improvements will increase my chances of acceptance at the next market.
Or not. Whatever. It’s something to do.
Strategy #4: Look for New Markets
Looking at other places to submit also requires you to stare future rejection in the face, but again, it’s something to do–goal-setting, in essence. “I’m going to send my story to XYZ next” gives you something to aim for. The activity assumes that you’re not going to give up.
Really, though–this is triggering if you do it too soon. I’m including this advice here because, if you don’t want to give up, you’ve got to do this research sometime. It might get you revved up to try again.
If you try this and start down a negative spiral of some kind, close your research and wait. This is not something to push. Wait until you recover enough. What matters is that you submit again, not that you do it within the next thirty minutes.
You Don’t Have to “Get Over It” Immediately
Frankly, the advice to just “get over it” is asinine. Maybe I just spent years on a story, and an editor just rejected it. That sucks. It hurts. Rejection makes me question if I’m worth anything–and I’m still questioning a month later. I’m definitely questioning my ability to write. But I’m also still writing, so maybe critics of taking one’s time can step back a little and let me have feelings for a while, instead of getting self-righteous. I reserve the right to feel down about rejection and deal with it in whatever way I see fit. Again, I’m still in the game, so my approach works well enough for me.
Maybe I just know a lot of assholes. YMMV. To be clear, I’m angrier at the insensitive response to rejection than I am at the people doing the rejecting, who are only doing their jobs. Don’t let people tell you it’s just your “thin skin” making this difficult; it isn’t. This is fucking hard, period. Maybe you do need to build resilience; maybe you don’t. I guess I have a problem with other people–especially complete strangers–making that judgment for me, is all. And they do seem to feel free to do that, here on the internet. (Or back home. Or–)
Take your time. Try different things. If you need a vacation–take one. That’s not always popular advice; it’s all about writewritewrite, get that daily word count in, don’t stop, you need discipline, and so on and so forth. But sometimes you do just need to stop.
I stopped for two solid weeks. That doesn’t bode well for this year’s Nanowrimo, but–all I can do is keep going.
It’s worth noting that I haven’t hit even 20 rejections yet, since starting submissions again, and I might feel very differently when I do. These strategies work for me now, but will they work later?
We’re going to find out.