Feeling Rejected?

Thank you so much, all of you lovely people who sent warm wishes regarding my short-listing. I ran a half marathon once and remember being carried forward by the cheering of the crowd and your comments yesterday were a reminder of that support. Muchísimas gracias, merci bien, nagyon szépen köszönöm, go raibh míle maith agaibh!

Posting this “success” also made me feel a bit of a fraud. Don’t worry, the short listing is genuine, I’m referring instead to the number of rejections/disappointments/ non-runs/PFOs I receive and never post because, well, one doesn’t make a big deal out of “failure”. A writer’s lot is pickled with rejection however, and learning how to handle it is one of the most important (and difficult) lessons a novice writer faces. Therefore, I thought it might be an idea to look at dealing with letters that begin: “The standard this year was very high and unfortunately…”

I when I was 22, I wrote seven short stories. They were bad, really pretentious, crammed with adjectives and adverbs and there was no theme or character development or point to any of them at all but I thought they were pure genius. I sent them off to every magazine I could find in the bookstore. And waited. And waited. And waited… until I became convinced that they had all been lost in the post. It was the only explanation, surely, as any editor would recognize my genius immediately, no?

A couple of months later, I received a single rejection letter. And the truth dawned. No one else even bothered replying. It was 100% rejection. I was floored. I burned the stories I was working on and I didn’t send anything else off for another ten years. That was very stupid of me. I should have brushed myself off and tried again. I would be in a much better position and be a better writer now if I had. But I wasn’t strong or intelligent enough to know that then. Ah, well.

During my first year on my MA at UEA, I sent out another batch of stories. I’d had a few shorts published at this stage and was confident that I’d now win every competition going and it would pay my MA tuition. And, again I got nowhere. I was pretty down but I recalled how I’d let rejection defeat me before and vowed it wouldn’t happen again.

I sent out more stuff, and then more stuff. And after six months, I won the Mary and Ted O’Regan Award, and then the Annaghmakerrig award and the Molly Keane Award this year (and received a tonne of rejections too).

My key coping tactic is multiple send outs. I like to have twelve “ships at sea” at any one time.  That way, if one ship sinks, I don’t notice it so much.

And don’t give up – look at how you can improve your rejected story and send it out again.

Remember, much depends on what the magazine or the competition judge is looking for at that particular time, it may not be a comment on your writing skills.

The 2011 stats:

Ships sent out in 2011 so far: 50

Wins/acceptance/short-listings: 13

Ships sunk without trace: 26

Ships yet to report back: 11


About suehealy

From Ireland, Sue Healy is Literary Manager at the Finborough Theatre, London, a full-time Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Lincoln. Her book on theatre literary management is published by Routledge, December 2022. Sue is an award-winning writer for stage, TV, and prose writer. TV Her current project, a 6x60minute TV series, is under option. She is under commission with Lone Wolf Media, producers behind PBS’ “Mercy Street”, to co-write the pilot and treatment for a six-part TV series. Stage Her most recent stage-play, Imaginationship (2018), enjoyed a sold out, extended run at the Finborough and later showed at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough. Her previous stage productions include Cow (Etcetera Theatre, 2017) and Brazen (King’s Head Theatre, 2016), funded by Arts Council England. Sue’s short plays have been performed at the Criterion (Criterion New Writing Showcase), Arcola (The Miniaturists) and Hackney Attic (Fizzy Sherbet Shorts). Radio Her radio work includes nine plays broadcast on BBC Radio 4 (Opening Lines winner), WLRfm and KCLR96fm. Prose Sue has won The Molly Keane Award, HISSAC Prize, Escalator Award, Meridian Prize and has been published in nine literary journals and anthologies including: The Moth, Flight, Tainted Innocence, New Writer, Duality, HISSAC, New European Writers. She has been writer-in-residence on Inis Oírr, Aran Islands, and at the Heinrich Boll Cottage on Achill Island. She has also benefitted from annual artist residencies at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, and at Ginestrelle, Assisi in Italy. An academic with a PhD in modern theatre history, specifically the Royal Court Theatre, Sue has presented her research internationally. She spent eleven years in Budapest, editing Hungary A.M. She has a PhD in modern theatre history (Royal Court Theatre) and is a UEA Creative Writing MA alumnus. View all posts by suehealy

19 responses to “Feeling Rejected?

  • L.S. Engler

    What a great post! It’s true that we tend to highlight our victories more than our rejections, but the fact is, without braving the possibility of rejection, we don’t allow ourselves the chance of victory, either! I’ve had countless more rejections (or no responses at all!) than acceptances, and I’m sure to have lots more, but that’s definitely not going to stop me.

    Even if something was rejected by one venue, perhaps all it needs is a little touch up and a different venue somewhere else, as well. Everyone’s looking for something different, and we only get better with time. 13 out of 50 is still amazing and more than what a lot of people manage, so keep it up and keep inspiring others to not give up, either!

    • suehealy

      Thanks Ellis! I hope this post will inspire those up against their first batch of rejection letters not to give up. I don’t have many regrets in my life but I do regret letting those early rejections floor me so. I appreciate your comment.

  • Diane

    ah yes, so familiar – I think it is interesting though if you make the mistake of keeping one of your less successful (don’t like the word failure) attempts and then read it again you are horrified that you ever let anyone see it at all. I have to admit that I am lazy these days and publish my shorts with Shortbreadstories.com they are kind and they are supportive and they publish my work – still we all just need to keep on keeping on don’t we. As I said in a story recently I have to write because not to write is not to live.

    • suehealy

      Hi Diane, ha ha, yes I know that feeling “OMG, how did I ever send this out?” Though, looking at it again, gives you a chance to rework it, rectify the problem and buff the positives (as it most likely has something going for it ).

  • Heather F.

    I write pulpy vampire fiction, and I know rejection like the back of my hand. I’m fortunate that many of them have been “We really like this, but it doesn’t fit right now because xxx, please try again.” And a few, “Well, this isn’t quite original enough, but we like your writing style…” (really common in the vampire and paranormal romance genre in general, unfortunately. There’s so much of it, it’s hard to find something new!) But it’s rejection nonetheless. I’ve learned to take every comment as constructive criticism — but it does take time and a thick skin to get used to it. This is your baby, whether pulpy or literary!

    I can only imagine how tough the standards are for literary fiction! Kudos to you for perseverance!

    • suehealy

      Thanks for your comment, Heather. It is true that you should try to take what you can from rejection letters- particularly those kind enough to let you know what they thought could be improved. And you do need to develop skin so thick, even a vampire wouldn’t get through : )

  • WhitneyCarter

    Ships at sea; that’s a brilliant way to look at submissions! Not only does it keep the numbers straight, but the visualization of ten little ships bouncing around out there on choppy waves actually releases some of the pressure we writers put on ourselves.

    • suehealy

      Thanks Whitney, yes, that’s how I see it. You send out a fleet, some will come back, some will sink. And, since I wrote this post this morning, I’ve received another rejection – one more down, so I’ve got to get another ship ready to launch. Sometimes it feels like battleships!

  • WhitneyCarter

    Battleships is probably an accurate description of trying to make it as a writer lol. At least, that’s how it feels a lot of the time.

  • kymlucas

    The multiple “ships at sea” analogy is a great one. I’ve only recently the truth you discuss here. In the past, I’ve concentrated so hard on finding the time to write that I shorted the querying part of trying to become a successful writer. Doing better now, and your post is a good reminder to keep it up.


  • Amy Keeley

    I like this and the picture that goes with it.

    And you’re right in your comment regarding learning something from rejection. Once you get to the point where the editor is taking time to explain why your story didn’t make it, that’s an excellent sign and worth taking to heart.

  • Neeks

    When you say you have multiple ships out to sea at once – do you mean multiple submissions of the same piece? If so, how do you keep track of who you sent what to? Has more than one publisher accepted a piece at once and how did you pick between them? 🙂 Thanks!

    • suehealy

      Hi Neeks, Thanks for this question. It gives me a chance to clarify- I should have made the distinction. No, I don’t mean multiple submissions of the same piece. I’m talking (largely) about short stories here and I would never send out the same story to different places at the same time. If one gets rejected, I may reword it and send it elsewhere but I’d never send it out to five magazines (for example) at the same time. This would also be against the entry rules for most competitions too.

      I might send the same story out in different form up to six or seven times, until it finds a home but I’d always wait for it to be rejected before I send it elsewhere.

      I have a spread sheet that keeps track of what has gone where.

      When you submit your novel, you may want to send to three agents at the same time. This is a different scenario (and agents don’t like that you do this but understand that it is done) and you should just let the agents know that that text has been sent to other agents too.

      I hope that clarifies.

  • Carol Lovekin

    Delighted for you – congratulations.

    Surf the waves & enjoy the moment!

  • Weathering the Storm « blackalchemy

    […] post on this very issue yesterday.  In her entry, Sue Healy offers several good suggestions on dealing with rejection for aspiring writers.  I especially liked her analogy of multiple submissions as being ships at […]

  • submeg

    Like others here, I also like the analogy of ships at sea! Battleships to be exact. Quite a good way to look at it! Currently I am at a neutral rating: 0/0. None submitted, none rejected!

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