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Friday, February 20, 2009

Take Heart, It Happens To Me Too

Writing has a lot of "hard parts." It's hard to write a good story well. Ideas seem simple enough until you sit down to write them and figure out that no, it really doesn't work, or it won't work the way you envisioned it. It's hard to keep slogging through a novel when you've lost your way or when doubt creeps into your brain and takes over. Who has the time to write? Getting past the guilt for taking time away from the rest of the demands in your life can be daunting. It's difficult, even when you're experienced, to hand over your work to a reader (no matter how trusted) and wait for his/her opinion.

And then there's rejection letters.

I decided six months ago that I had too much work at one publisher, (a lovely publisher. great to work with, but I felt I needed to expand my horizons) so I found a few calls for submissions that sparked story ideas and went for it. Most of those submissions were accepted. One I'm still waiting to hear back from, but the longer it goes, the less of a chance I feel it has. And then there's the story the got the rejection letter yesterday.

Considering that I've placed every story I've sent out for the past year or so, I can hardly get upset about one loss. Before the winning streak started, I had my share of rejection letters, so it's nothing new. But, oh, it still stings. No mortal wound, I assure you. Only a prick to my pride.

I think rejection letters are the hardest part of writing. It can feel so personal, but it's not, and that's the lesson every writer has to learn the hard, privately humiliating, confidence destroying way. It isn't how you feel that matters. It's the actions of a writer following a rejection that makes a difference.

Some people never write or submit their work again. That's sad, but frankly, that's the reaction of someone who needs to grow a pair. Delicate feelings are a self-indulgent luxury. They're also annoying as hell. People who react like that aren't more sensitive than the rest of the world, they just want a medal for it.

On the opposite end are the ones who write diva tantrum letters to the editor or publisher. Those high drama letters make the rounds behind the scenes - usually because the poor grammar and incoherent ranting usually make better reading than the submitted story. Angry, abusive, and high maintenance aren't the signs of an artistic temperament. They're signs of immaturity.

So what is a writer supposed to do after a rejection letter? I know that my story was within the guidelines of the anthology, so that wasn't the reason for the rejection. You'd be surprised how many people submit to the wrong place. Don't send your cookbook to a publisher who specializes in gardening books. No editor is going to make an exception for your book, no matter how well written, if the fit is wrong. If you were lucky and the editor said something specific about why your story was turned down, set your pride side and learn from what the editor said. (The letter I got said nothing specific. So I'm going to have to guesss that the editor simply didn't like it, or he didn't like it enough to include it. Nothing personal in that. It's not as if he said he doesn't like me.) Let the story sit for a few days, or weeks. Then give it a critical, detached read. If it still seems fine to you, then find a new place to submit it, and send that sucker out the door. Few stories sit around more than a month before I send them out again. After all, the best revenge, if you want to call it that, is selling it somewhere else.


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