Moving on after rejections — Carolyn Wilker

Dear Writer,

rejection clip artI have it on good authority that you are not alone in getting rejections. It’s part of the writing business. It’s painful, I’ll allow, for I have received them too. But truly, what do you do with your rejection notices? Do you file them in a drawer, paper your wall with them, or put them on a nail attached to your desk, like Stephen King apparently did?  And what do you do after that? Does it stop you from writing? It shouldn’t.

Except for a few filed in the cabinet with the manuscript, I have not kept the notes long. Many were filed, accompanied by sighs, and eventually went the way of the paper shredder. More than one note said, “Not what we’re looking for, best wishes sending it elsewhere.” I recorded those rejections on a spread sheet, so that I would remember not to send the same thing out to the same place again.

In my earlier years of writing, before I had learned the value of honouring the guidelines, one kind editor replied, “Write to the theme, and you’ll have a better chance.” After following her advice, my work was published in that magazine on the next submission. I became a regular contributor to that magazine for a number of years, until it folded, for lack of funding. It made me sad to lose that publication, for it had received many honours in church publication contests.

Rejections are not easy to take

The news of rejection has arrived on magazine and publishers’ stationery, on little printed cards and by email. Most, if not all, were short and non-personal, others kinder; not one was nasty. Perhaps these editors were once sensitive writers like me. I’ve listed a few hints to help you be more successful in your submission practices

  • Check guidelines carefully: Read and reread what the publisher or editor asks for, then follow it diligently.
  • Know what the publisher or magazine publishes: Study the publisher’s catalogue, and as much as possible, read books published by that house. For magazines, get a copy or several and study the content.
  • Print the submission guidelines: Check off each item, word count, spacing, font, preferred method of sending, SASE, making sure you send what is required. Paying attention to those details shows your professionalism.
  • Ask someone to read over the cover letter: Make sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors in your letter or manuscript. It’s easy to miss those things in your own work.
  • Send only your best work that has been carefully revised.

Now some encouragement

Not all responses were rejections, otherwise I might have given up long ago. I got many submissions right and was published. And even amongst the rejections, I received editors’ personal notes to keep trying. One wrote that she liked my story and continued, “Sorry, it’s not a good fit for our house.”

Save those notes, take the encouragement to heart, and keep on writing. Here’s a note from the author inside my autographed copy of The Jade Peony: “Your story will matter. Never surrender. Best wishes.” Wayson Choy.

Even if you get a rejection notice, note the pain and disappointment and then move on. Never give up! Write because the story matters.


carolyn-wilkerCarolyn Wilker is an editor, writing instructor, and the author of Once Upon a Sandbox

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