So, a couple of days after I write about rejection, an old story of mine called “Trephine” is accepted at Nimrod, a very fine literary review that I’ve been sending stuff to for years. They called today to let me know. Last summer, I reworked “Trephine” and really tried to shape the character’s experiences into a cohesive piece–cut a ton from the story–made it far more spare and concise. I ended up really liking the story and am grateful that someone else liked it too.
Whenever I write about rejection, people feel the need to pat me on the back and tell me things are going to be okay. My tone must be off. That’s not the reaction I’m going for. Rejection is a process. I don’t hate being rejected nor look forward to it. It’s just part of the writing business. What annoys me is inconsistency in the nature of rejection. Here are the types of rejection, rated from best to worst.
- I really like your story but a few people on our staff don’t feel as strongly as I do. I’m sorry because I think it’s very nice. (This rejection will often come with proof that someone has actually read the story and will often come in an official envelope rather than the standard SASE.
- Your story does not suit our current needs. (Love it, simple and to the point.)
- Your story is awesome and super great and we all love it. Unfortunately, we won’t be using it. We encourage you to send it to our contest, though, or to subscribe to our magazine.
- What did you send us? The file is corrupt. We don’t want it. Who are you?
- You can’t write your way out of a paper bag. What in the world are you thinking?
- The “three-day” turnaround. So I sent a story to Harpers. No real hope of getting into Harpers, mind you, just for the hell of it. Three days later I get my rejection. That means that someone in the mailroom opened the envelope, fished around for my SASE, and stuffed a rejection in there without even looking. There’s just no way that story got even a cursory glance.
- No response. (Unfortunately, this is becoming more and more common, especially among agents and even a number of independent publishers. They are understandably busy and receive all sorts of queries and submissions, but it still seems shabby to not respond at all and think that it is somehow okay. It’s as if I decided to just not grade some papers because I wasn’t interested. It’s my job to grade papers and an agent or editor’s job to say yes or no. Since so many places routinely take six months to a year to respond to queries, is it really unreasonable to expect someone to write and say no? Less than a decade ago, those same agents and publishers requested a SASE stamped envelope and would at least, usually, take the time to stuff a form letter in there and send it back to you. Now, in the digital age, sending a form email is too much work? I don’t buy it. It’s the decline of civility. I’d rather get the most nasty email rejection than no response at all. I might as well ball up my story and throw it outside to see if it’ll get to someone by catching a ride on a tumbleweed.
But this isn’t about rejection today. It’s about that illusive feeling of acceptance. It feels good, sure. But it doesn’t make me any different as a person than I was yesterday. And although I did revise the story, it’s essentially the same story that was rejected at least thirty times. At least. So I know not to get too high on acceptance or too low on rejection. As Chuck D. once rapped: “Don’t let a win go to your head or a loss to your heart.”
So if you aren’t too bummed by rejection nor uber-elated by acceptance, what is left? For me, the answer is simply: the work. That’s all there really is. Each day I’m trying to make the work the focus. Being in the creative moment is what changes my outlook on the world. By attempting to create, I become a better, more perceptive husband/father/ friend/teacher/citizen. By attempting to find my path in the paths of my characters, I access things in my own experience that are far more valuable to me than acceptance or rejection.
You can hear “Trephine” on this website. Just look under the Stories Out Loud tab above.