Today I pulled the plug on my WIP manuscript, The Swarm. At final count, the unfinished collection of garbage words weighed in at just under 53,000 words. Considering that novels run anywhere from 60,000-75,000 words and up, shouldn’t I be sad that I stopped so close to “the end?” Hell no!
Rejection is fact of life when it comes to being a writer. It’s going to happen no matter how famous/wonderful/handsome/talented you are. The sooner you learn that, the sooner you can get past rejection’s harsh sting.
The other day I read a post by Maurice Broaddus about learning from rejection letters. He shows a few of his personal stats when it comes to rejection. Rejections: 460. Acceptances: 56. While acknowledges that his stats have changed over time as a result of becoming more of a known entity (receiving invitations to participate in anthologies, etc.), he states that “there can be a difficult learning curve to rejections. […] Different kinds of rejections tell you different things. A lot of quick arriving form rejections may be telling you that the story’s not ready.”
So let’s look at what rejection letters can tell you. Obviously, when it comes to personalized rejection letters, they can give you invaluable feedback on your story. However, checking my Duotrope stats–practicing what Kelly Lagor calls “rejectomancy“–most of my rejections have all been form rejections. Does that mean that all of those stories weren’t ready? Not necessarily.
As Lagor states in her blog post about being a slush reader for Apex, “The timing of a rejection means nothing.” Many publishing houses and magazines get so many submissions that it would be impossible to provide detailed feedback about why they’re rejecting your story. There’s just too many submissions.
So when you get a form letter it might not mean anything more than a scenario like this: “Duotrope says a bunch of form rejections went out in three days last week and yours has been out for seven? Maybe I really liked it and I’m chewing it over for a few days. Maybe I sent it up to the editor. Or maybe I was in Texas all week for a work meeting.”
The rest of her post talks about some of the reasons why she rejects stories: boring the slush reader, problems with the ending, cliches, and simple matters of taste. This is all useful information to keep in mind, but without personalized feedback, you might never know for sure exactly why your story wasn’t accepted.
So, can rejections teach us things about our writing? Yes and no. It’s not always a cut and dry answer. If you get a personal rejection letter like I got from Angry Robot Books, then it told me a lot about my story, its personality, and the type of sensibilities Angry Robot was looking for. However, sometimes form letters are just that: “Sorry, this just didn’t grab me.” It’s up to you to interpret what that could mean. The timing of the rejection probably means nothing.
But can rejections teach us things about ourselves? Absolutely. One hundred percent yes. They can teach us not to get discouraged, that nothing in the writing world comes without some blood, sweat, and tears. Broaddus hits the nail on the head here: “sometimes the biggest lesson is getting up, dusting yourself off, and sending your story out again.”