In my last post, at Jerry’s suggestion, I changed the word “response” to “rejection” in the sentence “I used to have to wait weeks or months for a response from an editor. . .” He said it was cuter. (Well, I’m not sure he used that word.) For years, it was also more accurate. That’s why I wrote the following article. While I’m making friends with Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Myself Unholy,” I’ll copy the article out for you.
Editors May Reject You–But God Still Loves You!
Snoopy is sitting on top of his doghouse, typing a letter to a publisher: “Gentlemen, regarding the recent rejection slip you sent me. I think there might have been a misunderstanding. When I really wanted was for you to publish my story and send me fifty thousand dollars. Didn’t you realize that?”
I can identify with Snoopy’s sense of insult. At first, having been raised in a family of writers, I took publication for granted. Dad wrote plays, Mum wrote children’s books, and my brothers wrote poetry and science fiction.
When I was 11, my mother homeschooled me–although we didn’t know it had a name then–because we were sailing around the world in a yacht designed and built by my dad. Mum assigned me to keep a journal of our adventures. My parents typed up what I wrote, sent it to their agent, and I didn’t see it again until it came back three years later as a hardback book with a colorful cover, Jessica’s Journal. You can read it online at http://betweenthemasts.blogspot.com/
They did it all over again when I was 17: To Russia with Love http://www.wilmington.edu/prc/bookstore.cfm. Getting published was easy!
Then I married and had kids. When the kids started school, I started freelancing. To my great indignation, I got all my articles back in my face. Whoa! That wasn’t supposed to happen. I worked hard, submitted constantly, and finally broke into the local newspaper. My article was in the folded paper that landed on our doorstep at five in the morning. I ran outside barefoot to revel in it. All day long the newspaper with my article in it was on the newsstands. People were buying it and perhaps reading it.
But the next day there was a new issue on the newsstands, and the next time I submitted an article to the same editor, he turned it down. That wasn’t supposed to happen either! Once you’re in, you don’t get rejected anymore–do you?
I’ve had a lot of rejections since then. I’ve had writing rejected, writing accepted and then rejected, writing assigned and then rejected. I got so many rejections one year that I won an award for them at a writers’ conference. I’m an expert at dealing with rejections. I call them “cookie letters.”
A thin envelope from an editor may contain an acceptance, but a fat envelope is almost always a rejection. It doesn’t matter how kindly it is worded, it still hurts. My most comforting rejection was from an editor who said he loved my article and implied his whole staff were idiots for not agreeing with him.
I tell people at writers’ conferences that the editor is not rejecting you-as-a-person but merely a piece of writing which some other editor may treasure. But when I come home from another conference and find another rejection in the mail, I still feel rejected-as-a-person.
So what do I do? Do I take it lying down?
YES! I climb into bed with a good supply of peanut M+Ms or Mallomars. I give myself permission to pout. So one short-sighted editor rejected that novel, biography, article, story, poem, interview, satire, filler. It’s still pure gold and I’m going to win a Pulitzer Prize for it posthumously. Then she’ll be sorry.
A book manuscript takes longer to create, so of course its rejection takes longer to mourn. Let your level of hurt guide you. I find that after half an hour of stuffing myself with chocolate, I feel silly and kind of nauseated, so I get up and resume life.
Lately, though, I haven’t had time to mind rejections. I’m excited about so many other bits of writing I have at various stages, and I have so many things (especially reprints) circulating to various editors that when a rejection arrives, I find myself thinking, “I forgot I sent that out. Well, they weren’t the right market for it. I’ll send it to–.” Then I stick it in the mail again.
Rejections are now interspersed with acceptances. That helps a lot. I find if I keep peppering an editor with articles I know are right up his alley (because I’ve studied his publication and its writers’ guidelines), he’ll surrender eventually and buy one of them.
Another writer gave me a book called How to Sell 75% of What You Write, and I took its advice to heart. Sometimes I still try long shots, like my brother Tim did when he sent out a sonnet about spiders to Paul Blackburn, poetry editor of The Nation–and made his first sale. Telling me about it for my Master’s thesis, Tim said, “Later I saw Blackburn’s work in the Allen Anthology, and he obviously–sonnets! He had nothing to do with sonnets!–and I wrote and asked him, ‘What in the world possessed you?’ and he wrote, ‘I don’t know. I guess I was into spiders that week.'”
So I may fax a seasonal or timely article to 25 non-competing metropolitan newspapers at once (it’s called self-syndication), hoping one of the editors may be into spiders that week. I figure it’s worth it. One sale will pay for my expenses–and 25 editors are now aware of the kind of things I write. Maybe one of them will assign me an article in the future. (Maybe my name will become so familiar he’ll think he read it as a byline somewhere.)
When I became a Contributing Editor for Virtue magazine, the hardest thing I had to do was write my first rejection letter to a freelancer. I hand-wrote it. I told her exactly why we couldn’t use her article. I apologized. I suggested ways to improve it. She actually wrote back to assure me it was all right!
At least we can take heart that we probably won’t ever receive a rejection letter like Snoopy did: “Dear Contributor, thank you for submitting your story. We regret that it does not suit our present needs. If it ever does, we’re in trouble.”
(By the way, this article was published in The Christian Communicator, April 1997–one of close to 800 pieces I’ve submitted which weren’t rejected.)