5 Things to Do When Your Story is Rejected

For those who don’t know, I’ve been trying to write stories for almost a year now.[1] And I’ve sent some of them to short fiction markets, and a precious not-quite-handful of them are even going to see the light of day. But I’ve also gotten ten or fifteen rejections. And these are five never-fail, quick-action, 100% guaranteed strategies for coping with rejection:

1. Fetal position

By far my most reliable response involves curling into a small infantile ball and crying for a week or two. To fuel the despair, it’s helpful to periodically reread the rejection letter. If there’s any material there that might be construed as secret criticism, build on it (“Not a good fit?” That’s editor-speak for “I would rather be slowly roasted over the coals of hell than see this published” or maybe “Please dispose of this manuscript before it infects too many minds” or maybe “it’s not a good fit for us.”). The fetal position is great because it removes the possibility of accomplishing anything ever again. It also combines well with methods #2 and #3.

2. Vow to never write again

This is the fetal position with real guts, and the added spice of drama. If one editor one time didn’t want that one story, well, you’re an Artist who understands what the universe is trying to tell you. Raise yourself up from your fetal curl and swear aloud: “By the hammer of Thor, I will never burden the world with my writing again!” If you’ve ever aspired to shake your fist at the sky, now’s the time.

As a bonus, you can comfort yourself in the following decades with the knowledge that you aren’t one of those silly, embarrassing writers who keeps trying.

3. Call your Mom

All these methods should be combined with a healthy dose of Calling your Mom. Can anyone else truly grasp your inherent yet frustrated genius? Can anyone else have the inhuman patience to repeat into the phone: “No, I really liked it. I just thought it was great, dear.” This will somehow make you feel better, even though you know damn well your Mom isn’t an objective beta reader.

4. Take refuge in the certainty of your own brilliance

Warm your frozen heart with the flames of defensive anger (look! the imagery! the secret genius!). Probably your story would have actually been a huge hit and won All the Awards if only some lowly, highly-experienced editor hadn’t tossed it into the rejection pile. Here you could have single-handedly restored the mass appeal of the short story and given speculative fiction the respect of the literary community, but no.

To really take this to the next level, go ahead and compose your thoughts in a brief yet searing letter to the editor who rejected you. Let this be your model.[2]

5. Keep writing, except better.

Obviously you should choose this one and everybody says so. But, for the record, you can do all the others first.

Also, it’s super hard. Because you can’t just go on writing like you have been. You have to do it way better, by exponential leaps and bounds, and sweat out every sentence and check and double-check your plots and character arcs for fault lines and it still might not work and you’ll have to do it all over again.

 

[1] If you’re just here for book reviews—dude, sorry. This blog is kind of a sprawling, leaky, periodic affair, and this is what I felt like writing so I wrote it. Also, mini reviews: The City and The City was frigging amazing, and Perdido Street Station was less so.

[2] Never do this.

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14 comments

  1. Hahaha, I love this. I read a blog post from a short fiction specialist who said she submits a story ten times, cycling through different sites before deciding if to junk it or drastically rewrite it. That way, at any given time she has a few sites considering her stuff.

  2. Also don’t forget (6) Send that sucker out again. And when it gets rejected, send it out again. And again, and again, and again.

    It took me a really sad number of years to learn #6. I figured if ONE editor didn’t want my story, obviously NO editor would ever want it, because it was terrible, so I should just throw it away and write some other story. Not so! And who knew?

  3. Rejections seem to come in waves for me…nothing, nothing, nothing, then a sudden avalanche in my inbox one morning that leaves me pursuing strategy #1. My newly-minted publisher shutting down a month after signing the contract got me to #2…

    The carefree attitude I had towards rejections back pre-first-sales days no longer exists. At least back then, I had the delusion that I’d be a breakout success and once I sold my first story I’d be everywhere with my stories spreading and populating magazine anthologies like an unholy disease so I saw every rejection slip as a badge of honour (and that was back when rejection slips CAME IN THE MAIL). That didn’t happen. After my first acceptance in 2009 I didn’t sell another story for four years, and by then the handwritten rejection slip was pretty much extinct.

    1. Then Step .75, finish it but realize the actual story starts on page 14 and it’s only 16 pages long and god, why can’t readers just wade through more slow, agonizing build up?

  4. I hear you. I’m currently in stage 2 right now. Ok, not quite so dramatic. I’m just vowing not to write again for a week or so. Until I find that one idea that really inspires me, really. I just had a colossal failure role out of my brain and before the eyes of some unfortunate readers. It wasn’t ready, I was in a rush and I feel bad. So bad that I think I’m going to go back to stage 1 for a while. I’ll see you in the fetal position.

    By the way, congrats on the publications!

    1. I took a big break at the end of the summer and it was awesome. I feel like you can’t keep putting your whole heart on the line for stories if you’re continuously writing (yeah, I hear you Mr. Write-1,000-Words-A-Day Bradbury, and I disagree).

      Enjoy the break! And thanks : )

      1. I agree. I mean, I try to chip pieces out of my novel every day, but I definitely do find that taking some time to build up an explosive pressure of creative energy does help things along.

  5. This is wonderful. Usually I get to these stages before I even submit! (My beta readers are really, really honest with me…)

    In any case, N J showed me your blog, and I’m looking forward to getting to know you better. 🙂

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