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
Ships sunk without trace: 26
Ships yet to report back: 11
September 18th, 2011 at 16:06
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!
September 18th, 2011 at 16:08
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.
September 18th, 2011 at 16:17
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.
September 18th, 2011 at 16:21
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 ).
September 18th, 2011 at 16:50
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!
September 18th, 2011 at 17:21
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 : )
September 18th, 2011 at 17:24
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.
September 18th, 2011 at 18:30
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!
September 18th, 2011 at 18:41
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.
September 18th, 2011 at 20:05
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.
September 18th, 2011 at 20:51
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.
September 18th, 2011 at 21:10
Thanks for your comment,Amy. And yes, even receiving a rejection letter can be a positive sign – they often encourage you to work on a weak area or to try again.
September 19th, 2011 at 01:42
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!
September 19th, 2011 at 17:14
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.
September 19th, 2011 at 10:14
Delighted for you – congratulations.
Surf the waves & enjoy the moment!
September 19th, 2011 at 17:22
Many thanks, Carol.
September 21st, 2011 at 20:43
[…] 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 […]
September 21st, 2011 at 21:03
Hi! Thanks for citing my blog. Sue.
November 7th, 2011 at 10:43
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!