Even people who aren’t themselves writers are familiar with the idea that writers just starting out encounter lots of rejection, over and over, before they ever get anywhere with their work. We’ve all heard the stories of Stephen King getting hundreds of rejection slips before he became, you know, Stephen King. It’s not too different from aspiring actors going to a thousand auditions before they get their first gig, or a garage band playing all kinds of small gigs before they get a shot at a record deal.
In all these legends of paying your dues until you finally make it, the implication seems to be that you toil away without of a sense whether you’re getting closer to the goal or not, until WHAM — all at once, you’ve made it.
What I’m finding with my own writing is that although I haven’t yet had any stories accepted for publication, I’ve noticed a change in the quality of many of the rejections that leads me to believe I must be getting closer.
Non-writers may not know this, but most of the time rejection comes as a form note (more often a half-sheet than a full letter) that says nothing more than, “Sorry, we can’t use this, good luck to you placing this elsewhere.” I’ve received plenty of this, and I don’t let it bother me. It’s silly to think it’s some kind of slap in the face, when almost everyone is getting this same bulk rejection treatment. Editors have a ridiculous number of terrible-bad manuscripts to sort through, and they can’t take the time to offer coaching or suggestions or (usually) even specific reasons why they don’t want the story.
Several of my latest rejections, though, have included more encouraging language. Compared to a flatly generic “Sorry, no,” getting a rejection that says something more specific like, “Very nicely written and I like much of it, but didn’t grab me quite enough for a buy,” is more like rejection LITE. After getting a few such notes this month, I feel like I’m getting closer to the goal. Maybe I’m crazy-delusional, but I think this is a good sign.