You’ve spent hours writing the perfect article or pitch. You’ve read the submission guidelines fourteen times, and you’ve checked and double-checked to make sure you’ve followed the rules to a T.
You’ve geared the tone of your article to that of the publication you’re submitting to. You made sure you spelled the editor’s name correctly, and you have definitely read and reread the piece at least six times. There is not one typo or misspelled word.
You push Send.
You eat a cup of pretzels or a bag of potato chips, and then force yourself to forget about your submission for the next ten days or so.
Thank you for submitting your article.
In the past six weeks, I’ve had four articles and a bid for speaking at an industry conference rejected.
What an awful, awful feeling that is.
The Stories We Tell Ourselves
Have you ever said any (or all) of the following to yourself after a rejection?
“I’ll never succeed.”
“I’m a loser.”
“I’m a nothing.”
“I can’t write to save my life.”
“I have no talent.”
“I’m a bad person.”
Conventional wisdom says rejection stinks, be it social or professional. It makes us feel so bad about ourselves. We begin to question our judgment, our taste, our personality, our abilities. We get depressed. We cry. We rant and rave.
Adding Salt to Our Wounds
Then we’re forced to hear every bromide and cliché from friends, family, and colleagues who are trying to “comfort” us:
- “Better luck next time.”
- “It wasn’t meant to be.”
- “You should have tried harder.”
- “That’s life.”
And my personal favorite:
- “It’s their loss, not yours.”
Do any of these sound familiar? And have any of them ever made you feel better?
You’re in Great Company
- Agatha Christie: five years of rejections until her first book was accepted.
- Dr. Seuss: “Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.”
- Chicken Soup for the Soul: 140 rejections; “anthologies don’t sell.”
- The Catcher in the Rye: “We feel that we don’t know the central character well enough.” Salinger does a rewrite, and the rest is history.
- Gone with the Wind: thirty-eight rejections.
- A Wrinkle in Time: twenty-six rejections.
- Little Women: “Stick to teaching.”
- John le Carré: “He hasn’t got any future.”
- Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: 121 rejections.
- Willliam Saroyan: seven thousand rejections until he sold his first story.
- The Diary of Anne Frank: fifteen rejections.
- J.K. Rowling: first Harry Potter book rejected twelve times.
I’ve done a lot of soul-searching during the past few weeks, and I’ve come to the conclusion that while rejection can hurt, and hurt badly, it’s also a choice to feel this way. Let me explain.
What we think (input) becomes what we feel (output). In other words, if we tell ourselves “I’m no good,” we’re not going to feel so good. If we tell ourselves that we’re bad, we’re going to feel bad.
After the last rejection, I allowed myself to indulge in a little self-pity, which was accompanied by chocolate, carbohydrates, and a trashy novel. Notice the words I just used: I allowed myself. In other words, I made a choice.
A few days later, when I was feeling somewhat better, I sat myself down and thought back to the time I was rejected for a teaching position at a small women’s seminary. I don’t know what possessed me, but sometime later I called the principal back and asked her what the problem was and what I needed to do in order to teach at her place. She was super helpful and gave me some actionable advice.
But the most important part was that as we schmoozed, she saw there was more to me than my resumé, and by the end of the conversation she said, “You know what, now that we’ve spoken, I really think you’d be a good fit for my school.”
Entering the Lion’s Mouth
Calling that principal was hard; I felt that I was entering the lion’s mouth (in a manner of speaking; she’s a really nice person), risking more rejection a la: “My decision is final; leave me alone.”
I discovered instead that most people want to see you succeed.
With this in mind, I went over the four article and pitch rejections. This is how I broke it down:
- Didn’t respond. While it would have been great to have been published on this site, I had already sensed an edge to the owner through her writing that I wasn’t comfortable with, her submission process was a bit over-the-top (you had to “swear” you read the guidelines – is that normal?), and there is nowhere on the site to “Contact Us”; everything goes through a contact form. None of this is my cup of tea, so why did I want to write for this publication in the first place; because it’s popular? So are a hundred others. It is not humanly possible to be a good fit for every single publication in the world. Now that this door is closed, I can open a window somewhere else.
- Said my writing style wasn’t appropriate for her blog. I have a tiny relationship with this blog owner, as I had exchanged a couple of emails with her previously. She was 100 percent right; my style is totally not in sync with hers. And that’s okay, too. I thanked her for her time and told her how much I look forward to her future blogs, which is the truth.
- Gave me feedback and urged me to reread her stuff. I have a friendly relationship with the editor of this e-publication, and I thanked her for her truly valuable feedback. She told me what type of article I would need to come up with in order for it to be considered for publication. I’ll try again with her, and I’ll work hard to make sure my next pitch is more in line with what she wants.
- Said they liked my subject, but the pitch was all wrong. The editor gave me feedback with regard to what I’d need to do in order for them to reconsider the pitch. I then reached out to her, asking specific questions with regard to the problems with my pitch and what they wanted instead. I reread several articles of theirs, and of course I reread the guidelines another fourteen times. Success! My new pitch was accepted! And you’ll be the first to know when it goes live.
As far as I’m concerned, this was win-win – for both me and me.
My “I’m a loser” side dug a little deeper and discovered that I’m not such a loser; not being a good fit for one or two publications is not a moral issue. Do I like every single magazine or website I’ve ever read? Goodness, no. Would I have really and truly been a good fit for publications number 1 and 2? Probably not. Does every single person in the world have to like me, and I them? Certainly not. So what’s the big deal?
My “I’m a successful person” side was happy because I moved on from the publications that in any case were not good fits, leaving me time and head space to pursue other possibilities whose doors were still open. I got good feedback. I used the rejections to learn a ton about pitching and writing for e-publications, and in the end I got a gig. I chose to remain positive and gracious with the editors, and burned no bridges.
Ultimately, rejection is about defining who you are. Which type of man or woman do you want to date or marry? Which college would be the best fit for you? What types of publications are you most suited to write for? Which genre?
I believe that if we can change the way we look at rejection we will come to see it as an opportunity instead of a disaster. You are allowed to to feel bad. But once you get the pain out of your system, use rejection to discover more about yourself and what you’re really meant to be doing.
How do you deal with rejection? I really want to hear how you handle it. Do you agree with what I said? Why or why not? Let me know what you think in the Comments.
Extra credit: Take a piece of prose that was rejected. Look it over and revise as necessary. Then send it to a new publication. Let me know what happens.