Monday, April 16, 2012

Rejection slips and wearing your endurance on your sleeve

I was just reviewing an old folder with all my rejection slips going back to the 1980s. I got so many I had to start a second folder. Oh, I really don't think I recommend this journey down memory lane for anyone. It's making me want to jump off a cliff. All the frustration came rushing back up off those pages and smacked me hard, in the face.

This blog article is for those new writers who have never been published. But also for those who are still trying to get somewhere and thinking it will just never happen. I can think of three things you need for it "to happen". You have to have skill, perseverance and, action. Anyone can write. Pen to paper, move it in the form of letters, words, sentences. Put a few sentences together in a cohesive theme and you have a story. Come up with a unique "voice" and an unusual story, hit your right market (at the right time) and there you are, you've sold a story.

But in putting that all together just right and in having the Luck to hit it at just the right time; that is, get it to the right publisher at the right time when the have room and need it, especially if it is at its Zeitgeist; then you will have something happen.

One of those rejected stories of mine is now published in an anthology with other authors. Yet, it had rejection after rejection. Of course, I had brushed them up over the years and learned a lot and had become hopefully, a better writer. In some cases I was ahead of things. A story I couldn't sell in 1980 sold just fine in 1990. So sometimes, that has something to do with it. Being progressive, ahead of the times, is all fine and great, but being too far outside the scope of popular understanding can really work against you.

I once heard one of the most famous writers in American history say that you should start a hobby of collecting your rejection slips. Wallpaper your home office with them and when the wall fills, fill another. When the walls all fill, do the ceiling. When the office is full, start on another room. Fill your house if you have to. The point being I think, not to give up.

I put my heart into it. So, I started to just collect rejection slips with no thought to actually selling something. Therefore, I was no longer looking for an acceptance letter. I wanted a rejection slip. I have rejection slips from The Twilight Zone magazine, and others (see below). I started focusing my submissions on magazines I wanted to be rejected by. Of course, the hope was always to be accepted one day by one of them, but more importantly I needed to survive yet another rejection, and then go on to submit to another story, to most likely get another rejection.

As a writer you have to survive. Somehow. Tricking oneself, works.

All that being said, here are some of my favorite rejection slips....

Seriously, how could I NOT want to get a rejection slip from The Twilight Zone? "Dear Writer." At that point it became a "thing" to get a rejection slip with other than a form letter, with a personal inscription of some form on it.

Still a form letting, but so what? It was Playboy! I'm not sure there is really anything to really say about this one. What guy wouldn't want to have a story published in Playboy? As I remember it, stories went for $2,000, going up $1,000 each successive story sold. A great deal for a writer that got hooked up in that system. But it was an almost impossible market to break into.

Now this one is interesting. The short story they are rejecting there is now in an anthology published in 2010.

I remember when Omni started up. I have the first issue still, somewhere around here in a plastic cover. I would have loved to have had a story in Omni. But, I knew I didn't have a shot. As you can see, I was trying hard to get published but I was also making it a game. I LOOKED forward to getting a rejection slip from Playboy or Omni. That really went a long way toward buffering the rejections at magazines where I thought I had a chance and really wanted a story published there.

I would say I probably sent of 1 in 10 submissions where I knew I had no chance of getting accepted but you have to shoot for the stars sometimes because you never know when something might click, and you get a boost in status where maybe you shouldn't have. We have to "pay our dues" but what's wrong with jumping a rung on the ladder here and there? Right?

This one would have just been cool. I thought I had a chance and I was kind of sad about this rejection, but then, as I put it in my folder with the others, I felt good in having one from them and now I knew what their rejection slips looked like. Not everyone could say that, could they?

Analog is another one that would have lead to a big party, had I gotten other than a rejection slip from them.

Don't you love that? "Dear Writer." So personal. Makes you feel all warm and ugly inside. I mention this particular rejection slip for a good reason. No matter how hard I tried, I would still from time to time, run into a magazine that had gone dead after I found information about them, or sometimes, way before I had found them but my information was, for whatever reason, completely out of date. I remember at least one instance where someone told me I should submit and when I did, I got a nasty letter back saying they were no longer in publication. Hey, you takes your shots.

So yes, sometimes I got chastised by the editor for bothering them when I had sent them a story and they were no longer publishing, or it was just the wrong genre. Or as in one case, they had gone out of business and even when they were publishing, had only published non-fiction. That one really was my fault and a complete waste of time. Of course, even though it was only a few stamps and an envelope or two envelopes actually (an SASE for a return of my story), it was a waste nonetheless.

I found that in the end that you do the best you can and you simply never give up. Not completely, anyway. From time to time you have to bolster your ego, boost up your energy and take another full contact attempt at it. It is a long term marathon kind of endeavor and by no ways a sprint. The efforts can come in waves of productivity. Some people misinterpret that and quit. Don't. If you find you've slacked off, ask yourself, "why?" If' it's because it all seems useless and pointless, look at why you feel that way, reorient yourself, get up some steam and hit it full force again. Then just do that, over and over and over and--

Presently, we have many more options open to us as writers than I did when I received those rejections above. I suggest you find what those are now if you want to get published. Resources are everywhere online now. Use all of them. If you do, you will get published somewhere, eventually. Just keep going.

Under those circumstances, you almost can't avoid it.


  1. I also have a folder from approximately the same time. One actually suggested I elucidate on a section of my story; I loved that one. But I am in the middle of writing my first book so I don't think I will delve into that folder right now. Sometimes I wish I had a different passion, like a regular 9-5. Alas, (great sigh) I don't. Thanks for the post and the encouragement.

  2. Guess it used to be kind of nice getting the letter head from a famous magazine, but now they come in emails and are deleted faster than the speed of light or at least the speed of my internet provider. Even the speed of light has been disputed recently, so everything comes under new scrutiny nowadays. Here's to wishing things were less one-sided and perhaps one day I'll feel more confident regarding this subject.

  3. :) Good points and I should probably feel good that I even have these to look back on in the coming years. The entire experience of rejection is no fun, it's just a fact of life we all have to develop a way around in order to continue on as if nothing had ever happened. I usually know it will take me part of a day to get over it, if not longer. But it's something I know I'll get over and treat it accordingly. Hopefully, something comes of each one though, so that something is gained from the experience. Even if it's to edit some more, or pay more attention to who you're sending your works to. :) Hang in there.

  4. As a newer writer, thanks for the encouragement (I think, sigh). Anyway, very cool of you to open your file and share these rejection letters. Everyone shows off their awards. Few are confident enough to share rejection.
    I like the title of your blog, also.