Tuesday, January 27, 2009
The Positive Side of Rejection
The Positive Side of Rejection
By Jeanne Lyet Gassman
In my writing critique group, we applaud when one of our members receives a rejection. We don't applaud because we are cruel or because we celebrate failure, but rather we applaud the courage it takes to risk being rejected. Unfortunately, rejection is all part of the process of getting published. First, you submit your work. Then you wait for a response. Sometimes that response comes in the form of an acceptance and a contract. More often, that response comes in the form of a rejection.
So, how do you put a positive spin on rejection? How do you find hope from what appears to be a sea of indifference about what you have to say? You start by recognizing that not all rejections are equal. Some rejections are better than others. On that note, let's look at the types of rejection slips writers receive, beginning first with the worst and ending with the best:
Form Letter. The form letter is easily recognizable to the experienced writer but not always so easy for the novice to identify. A form letter rejection often reads:
Thank you for your submission. Due to the many submissions we receive every week, we are unable to offer individual comments. Unfortunately, your submission does not meet our needs at this time.
This is the polite version. There are more succinct versions that just say, "Sorry." What can you learn from this type of rejection? Absolutely nothing. You don't know if the editor thought your work was terrible, if the editor was just having a bad day, or you submitted your work to the wrong market.
Friendly Almost-Form Letter. This is the first step up in the rejection letter tier. This type of rejection tends to be more personal in nature but still not particularly revealing:
Thank you for your submission of Xyz Story. Although we found the story engaging and well written, we could not find a place for it in our magazine. We wish you success in placing your work elsewhere.
This letter tells you that your submission was read at least once. It also hints that this particular piece may be inappropriate for this market. The editor (someone you don't recognize) has taken the time to let you know that you're a competent writer. If you plan on submitting to this market in the future, you should take more time to study the magazine for their editorial preferences.
Personal Note. This is a good rejection. The editor has read your work and taken the time to give you some helpful feedback. A typical letter may read:
Thank you for sharing ABC Story with us. You have a strong narrative voice and interesting characters, but I did feel that the beginning was too slow. Although we have decided against publishing your story, you should be able to place this elsewhere.
You can be assured the editor has read your story carefully. He was impressed enough to offer suggestions for improvement. In fact, the weaknesses he's mentioned could be the main reason he rejected this story. So, what should you do here? First, look at his comments. Are they relevant? If so, make the changes, and send the story out again. I would not send the same story to this market, however, unless you've been invited to submit a revised version. You definitely should send this editor another story, taking care to ensure that your next piece doesn't have the same problems he's pointed out. And don't forget to send the most important piece of correspondence of all: A thank you note. When an editor, publisher, or agent offers helpful feedback, you should always say, "Thank you."
Submit again. It's still a rejection, but it's the best of all possible turndowns. The editor wants to see more of your work. Editors and publishers are swamped by submissions. They never ask to see more of your work unless they mean it. Many times, you will find hand-written comments in this version, another clue that the editor took more time to review your work. The "send more" letter reads like this:
Thank you for sending us 123 Story. Although we could not find a place for it in our upcoming issue, we were impressed by the quality of your work. We particularly enjoyed the building tension you created between the father and son in the story. We would welcome future submissions from you. Please send them attn: Jane.
What should you do? Send Jane that thank you note. Then send Jane something new. Be sure to mention her earlier comments in your cover letter. And don't wait too long. Someone else could step in line ahead of you!
May your rejections always be good ones! Happy writing!
Jeanne Lyet Gassman is an award-winning author whose fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry has been published in magazines, newspapers (including The Arizona Republic and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), and anthologies. In 2002, Ms. Gassman was the recipient of an Encouragement Award in Creative Writing from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, and in the 2005 Preditors & Editors Reader’s poll her story, '”Healing Arts,'” was ranked among the Top 10 in the nonfiction category. She also teaches writing classes and conducts workshops in the Phoenix metropolitan area.
Please visit her Web site at: