Want to get published more? Embrace rejection—an update


Image by Judith E. Bell/Flickr

I got the nicest rejection letter recently.

No, I’m totally serious. I wanted to write them back and say thank you; thank you for rejecting my work!

Are they going to publish it? No. Did I win any sort of consolation prize (like, you know, money)? No. Is my name going to be on some list of notoriety as a result? Well, my name is probably on a list somewhere already, and not in the good way, but let’s not dwell on that.

So, you ask, what makes you so happy that they rejected your work? Well, this:

“Our readers thought your submission contained beautiful, smart, quick and impactful speculation on all the ways one love can go, both relatable and fresh. They called it a ‘beautifully compiled spectrum that pulls us to a bittersweet conclusion.’”

It may not have won, but they got it. They understood what I set out to do when I wrote the story, and judging from the response, it accomplished that. So what if I didn’t win?

You have to let others read—and potentially reject—your writing

The other reason this pleases me is because it’s an indication that I’ve been sending my work out. My goal in 2017 is to send out at least one story a month or apply for something writing-related, whether that’s a fellowship, a residency, a grant; some project or publication that, if I got it, would advance my writing in some way.

So far, I’ve done a little bit better than one submission a month. I’ve sent out one story three times since January, and another story went out in January as well. So, four months, four story submissions. In addition, I’ve applied for a national fellowship that is so insanely competitive that my chances are probably less than the proverbial snowball’s, but I applied anyway. The application was free, so I had nothing to lose but my time. I’ve also applied for a residency at a crazy prestigious artists’ and writers’ colony. Holding my breath on that one? Not very likely.

Make collecting rejections a game

It’s entirely possible I will get rejected by all of these places. That’s okay. I’m collecting rejections this year. I want to get as many rejections as possible, more than I got last year, even. According to my records, I sent out 19 submissions last year. (I keep track of my submissions in a spreadsheet. Hello, I’m a nerd.) Three of those wound up being acceptances, which makes my acceptance rate about 15.8 percent, give or take.

If we go strictly by the numbers, the more I send out, the more I’ll get rejected, but the more I’ll get accepted, as well. At least, that’s the hope. So if I sent out 38 times this year? I’d get six acceptances. Seventy-six? Twelve acceptances. And so on.

If you never send your work out, if you never apply for anything, you’ll never get an acceptance.

At least, maybe. The math doesn’t lie, but it’s also no guarantee that my work will be accepted for publication more frequently. (Past performance does not necessarily predict future results, as mutual fund prospectuses like to remind us.) What is a guarantee, however, is that if you never send your work out, if you never apply for anything, you’ll never get an acceptance.

My biggest project this year is revising a novel in progress, and it’s actually not the novel I’ve been working on and talking about the most, which is the as-yet-untitled sequel to The Unwanted. This one, rather, is a novel I wrote in grad school as my master’s thesis. I started a revision on it last year before setting it aside, and I’ve moved it back to the front burner now. Why am I switching gears? Because I submitted that novel to an agent, and she’s asked for a revision. So, not a rejection, but rather a renewed opportunity for a rejection… or an acceptance.

Speaking of acceptances, let’s end things on a high note. I submitted a story to a contest in March, and I found out this month that, although it didn’t win, it’s getting published anyway. I almost didn’t submit it, for reasons I can’t even remember now. And where would that have gotten me?