Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Writing: Dealing with Rejection

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 23, 2018

If you create anything, you are going to have to deal with people who don’t like what you create. At best, they are uninterested. In some cases, you’ll get some people who derive joy from trying to destroy what you created, and tear you down. Sadly, the only other option is never to share anything you’ve created with the public.  And that would be a shame.

While as indies, we may create directly for the public, which gives us more of an aggregate response. We may submit to competitions. We may submit to publishers. We may submit our work for reviews. And that comes with the possibility probability likelihood of rejection or negative feedback. And that HURTS. I read somewhere that one negative review has the same emotional weight as twenty positive reviews. That means you could receive thirty-five stellar reviews, but then read two negative reviews and decide that “everybody” hates your work, and not only start doubting your skill, but your own self-worth. Science fiction legend (and ultra-prolific writer) Isaac Asimov once said, “Rejection slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil-but there is no way around them.” It comes with the turf. It’s a tough gig out there, creating stuff.

I wish I remembered the source of the best pieces of advice I found about how to develop thick skin for rejection. It was probably some science fiction pulp writer (maybe even Asimov). It went something like this:

The best way to develop thick skin towards rejection of your manuscripts is to be so prolific that by the time you receive the rejection notice, you have trouble remembering exactly what they rejected.

I thought that was kind of crazy. At least in the world of short stories, I discovered by accident it was possible a little over a year ago. I had three or four stories out on submission at the time, so when I first got the email, I wasn’t sure which story it was talking about. That really did take the sting off. (Having an acceptance around the same time period probably helped, in spite of the 1:20 rule). Incidentally, I had to double-check to find out what story had been accepted, too. I was pretty busy that month.

It works. Keep going, keep pushing, keep submitting, and keep creating. It’s the only way.

I had a story that had been rejected around five times. It had been accepted for an anthology once, but the anthology had been canceled. I had received a personal message from the editor of another anthology who told me that my story was good and had made it all the way to the final round, but ultimately it didn’t fit in. I hadn’t resubmitted it in a while. I didn’t know what to do with it. I thought it was no good. That many rejections must means it’s not really that good, right? (Note – I thought this in spite of my knowing it had made a final round, and the acceptance that had later fallen through).

My good friend, award-winning author Julie Frost, helped me overcome this self doubt through her usual style of soft, gentle encouragement. Or not. Actually, I think she may have called me an idiot. She was right. She mocked me over the five rejections, and proceeded to tell me how many rejections some of her stories had received before being published. We’re talking over a couple dozen rejections. She was flabbergasted when I told her I had received the encouraging note from one editor, and that it had actually been accepted for an anthology that had fallen through.  She may have called me an idiot a second time at that point. And a piker. And something worse.

After she was done yelling at me, I dusted off the short-story, and did what I shouldn’t do and made some revisions to it–it was an older story, and I’ve improved since then. I “pulped it up” a bit. And I submitted it again. It was accepted, bought, and published. Yeah, it’s not quite Harry Potter (rejected twelve times… how would you like to have been an editor who passed on THAT?), but it’s a personal story and hopefully closer to home.

Rejection hurts, and it feels like a failure–even when the reasons for rejection may have nothing to do with the quality of your work. I think it gets easier over time, especially with that bit of advice about being prolific. However, I don’t think it ever gets easy. To quote Asimov again, “You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you are working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success–but only if you persist.”

Filed Under: Biz, Writing - Comments: Read the First Comment

  • Ian Richard said,

    What I find to help, especially when I first began was to prepare two submissions. I’d write the letter, address it, and seal them both into an envelope and then I’d send one and pack the other away.

    If I receive the rejection, I’d send the next one by the next day. No need to overcome the feelings, no struggles to believe in my work… just putting it into a mailbox.

    And while I’m on the hopeful high of submitting to a second publisher it’s a little easier to prepare my third envelope.

    Rejection is easier now that I have a few successes under my belt but I still try to prepare for the worst until that check is in my bank account.

    I just wish there was a way to convert that to job hunting.

    I’ve found it far less painful to contact and work with the top brass at a 2.4 billion dollar company than I’ve had speaking to random middle managers in companies I’ve never heard of.