The Art of Rejection

Over the last few months, I’ve sent out a handful of literary magazine submissions–mostly stories from my MFA thesis. And slowly, little by little, the rejections have begun to trickle in. (Very slowly, as you might have guessed from this post.)

I’m not unfamiliar with the submissions process. During my MFA program, I made submitting a regular habit. It’s one of those skills you can only acquire by doing. Reading about formatting and cover letters and submission guidelines will only get you so far. At some point, you have to shut your eyes and hit the send button. And I had some luck those two years I was in school. It’s nice having a few credits under my belt.* It’s encouraging.

Which is, of course, the hardest part about rejection, especially at first. You start feeling discouraged, like you’re no good, like no one will ever want your work and, good grief, why bother.

But this summer with this cycle of submissions, I just shrug, read over the story, make another revision or two, and send it out again.**

Rejection is a natural part of being a writer. And we all have to get used to it. I’m not saying you have to like it. But the art of getting rejected is understanding what a rejection means.

For a example, I recently got a note from a magazine saying they’d enjoyed the story and they’d like to see more in the future, but this piece didn’t quite suit them. It’s a pretty common note: “this just isn’t for us.” Having been a slush reader and an editor, I have a good sense of that. I read a lot of stories that were technically sound and relatively engaging, but they didn’t sing to me. Some of them simply weren’t my kind of story. Which is the thing I think writers often forget about editors. They’re readers. Readers have tastes, have preferences. Yes, a good magazine will have a diverse editorial board to keep the publication exciting and appealing to a wider audience, but I think if you’ve worked on a piece and revised it and re-revised it, it’s probably just that your story/poem/essay didn’t reach the right reader.

So we try again. We always try again. Because that’s the other thing, it’s my job to believe in and care about my work. Other people–my teachers and classmates–also believe in it and are very supportive, but if I don’t believe in it, why should anyone else? And I think that’s how we should approach rejection. Accept it, but remember you still care about your piece, you still think it will find a good home, and eventually it will.

*Credits I’m proud of–please, please, please never submit to a venue if you wouldn’t be totally thrilled to have your piece placed there.

**Not blindly. While I’m waiting for responses, I’m always researching other magazines: reading, checking out their websites, etc.

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