Rejection, A Story

Scott William Carter   October 31, 2006  

I know I wrote a while back that I was going to post in this blog more frequently. And yet, here I am, doing my once or twice a month posts. Oh well. I suppose it’s just a sign I’m not much into the live-I’m-eating-a-bagel-now-I’m-watching-reruns-of-Friends type of blogging. I know it has its place, but I just can’t bring myself to write about trivial things. Well, there’s always the possibility that what I do write about is trivial, but at least I don’t think of it that way when I’m writing it, so that’s something. Maybe.

Anyone want a bagel?

Anyway, onward to the point of today’s post.

Of all the things that can stop an aspiring writer from achieving any level of success, the cold reality of rejection is probably at the top of the list. For every short story or novel accepted by a publisher (and we’re talking reputable publishers that pay the author, not self-publishing outfits that charge the author), there are thousands that get nothing but a form letter saying, in one way or another, “thanks, but no thanks.” If you keep at it, realizing that writing is a craft that takes years to master, like any other worthwhile pursuit, eventually you get better, and you start getting more than just form letters — a few comments scrawled in the margins, then eventually full-fledged personal letters or emails with your name actually typed at the top. When you start to sell your work with more regularity, pretty soon editors are paying attention, and then most editors, when declining to buy your latest, try to give you some idea why what you’ve sent them is not right for them. Sometimes they go so far as to tell you why it’s not working at all.

Here’s the thing, though: a rejection is just a story. Like any fiction, it’s subjective, based on the experiences of the writer (in this case, the editor), and it may, or may not, have a ring of truth to it. One of the easiest ways for a writer to waste gobs of time is read too much into these comments. If the rejection is actually a rewrite request, then by all means any sensible writer would examine those comments closely, but if it’s just a “no thanks” response, well, then usually it’s best to just see the rejection as another story. A polite fiction. I’ve had editors tell me all the reasons why a story isn’t working only to have me turn around and sell that story without changes to another editor who praises everything the first editor found wrong with the work. One editor’s distate is another editor’s delight. As you get better as a storyteller, selling your work becomes less a matter of skill and more a matter of taste. Just like any reader, each editor’s taste is different.

That’s not to say you don’t fall on your face now and then with any particular manuscript. If you’re taking chances with your work, pushing yourself to make yourself grow as a writer, then you are guaranteed to fall on your face with great regularity. And there’s nothing wrong with that. You can’t learn to walk without falling down. But as you get better, you also have to determine when an editor’s suggestions are really something you should think about and when it’s just a reflection of taste. That’s called being a professional. It’s also called having a backbone.

Of course, your rejection could really mean that your manuscript stinks. There’s always that.

The point is: only you can decide. You have to be strong enough to be able to take honest criticism of your work while ignoring the stuff that won’t help you. The easiest way to handle it is to treat the marketing of your work as merely a process . You send something out, noting where it went, and if it comes back, you send it off somewhere else. If you do this enough, those little stories that editors send back bother you less and less. Of course, the sting never goes away completely. If that happens, it probably means you’ve stopped caring about your work, which may not kill your writing career, but it will certainly stop you from growing and learning, which is the same thing in my mind.

Here’s a pop quiz: do you think every writer should want to get to a point in his career where he never receives rejections?

If you answered yes, you’re wrong — at least in my opinion. If you’re not getting rejections, then you’re probably not taking enough risks, not pushing yourself hard enough, not learning to walk in new ways. There is no growth without failure. There’s no rewards playing it safe. So the good writer, the writer who’s always striving to get better, doesn’t see rejection as the enemy. The rejection you just got in the mail may have some truth to it, or it may be complete fiction, but it is always an integral part of being a professional fiction writer who is not satisfied with the status quo.

And there is no higher accolade for a writer in my book.

Recommended Reading:

  • The Plot Against America by Philip Roth. At the heart of Roth’s ficional memoir is the premise that Charles. B Linderberg, a Nazi sympathizer, ran as a Republican candidate and won (instead of Roosevelt winning his third term). It was well done and provocative, with one of the best endings to a novel that I’ve read in a while.

Writing-related news:

  • Spent a couple weeks rounding the young adult fantasy into final form so my agent can go to market with it, as well as making good progress on the new novel. Otherwise, nothing exciting to report.

Recommended Websites

  • Check out SF Signal (, a blog that’s something of a clearing house on things related to science fiction and fantasy. If you don’t have time to go scouring hundreds of websites, this is a good one to hit.

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