Warning: Hacks for Hacks tips may have harmful side effects on your writing career, and should not be used by minors, adults, writers, poets, scribes, scriveners, journalists, or anybody.
Stuffing your manuscript in the yellow envelope and mailing it to a magazine feels like putting your kid on the big yellow school bus for her first day of school. When your story comes back in a self-addressed, stamped envelope accompanied by a rejection letter, it’s like your kid’s being dropped off in a squad car after getting nabbed for public urination. Like one of your kids, you were once so full of hopes and dreams for your story, of how it would make you proud and earn money to support you in your declining years.
Like a punishment out of Greek mythology, writers roll their work up Publishing Hill, only to have rejection pull it back down and crush them underneath. I’m going to show you how to steel yourself against the death of a thousand paper cuts that is the rejection letter:
Plenty of people don’t like the Beatles or Shakespeare. This proves the world is overrun with morons, so it’s not unlikely the editor who rejected you is one of them.
- First, resist the urge to act like you’re going through the five stages of grief. That’s so cliché. Proceed directly to anger and stay there (the more rejections you collect, the easier that gets). Think of rejection like a twelve-step program that only has six steps.
- Remind yourself you can’t make people like what they don’t like. Plenty of people don’t like the Beatles or Shakespeare. This proves the world is overrun with morons, so it’s not unlikely the editor who rejected you is one of them.
- Be proactive for next time. For future submissions, remember the SASE itself is an extra chance at making a sale. Imagine a sinister editor cackling and twirling his mustache as he stuffs a Xeroxed, quarter-page, form rejection slip into your envelope. But what’s this? Waiting for him inside the envelope is a SECRET ALTERNATE ENDING that replaces your dramatic courtroom scene with a rootin’-tootin’ cowboy shoot-em-up. Only someone with your talent and skill could come up with not one, but TWO endings he doesn’t like.
- How do you communicate when you’re talking to a non-English speaker? You just talk louder (“I said, WHERE IS THE BATHROOM?”) It’s the same thing with editors and literary agents. Send your story to that same editor immediately, this time with all the important bits italicized for emphasis. Repeat as necessary. Modern word processors have several options for highlighting, bolding, and changing the text color, so don’t be afraid to use them all. The editor may not like your story. She may not like your tactics. She may begin to dislike you on a personal level, but deep down, she’ll admire your persistence once she sees you’re in this for the long haul.
- We’ve all heard stories of how famous authors accumulated dozens, if not hundreds of rejections before they got published. Become one of them! Start sending out stories to every magazine you can find. Remember, a story is merely a piece of writing that has a beginning, middle, and an end. Literary fiction has shown that nothing even needs to happen in the story. Genre fiction has taught you that you don’t need believable characters. I’m not schooled on the negative stereotypes of romance, but I’ll bet it’s taught you something equally insulting. So send out whatever you’ve got lying around–Put some of your tweets together and claim it’s an “experimental” story. Send in that email exchange between you and your girlfriend after you broke up. Hell, if you want a tale that examines the futility of human existence, send in your grocery list. Speaking of food…
- Order a pizza. You deserve it.
If you want a tale that examines the futility of human existence, send in your grocery list.
The open wound inflicted by that rejection letter has now healed into a badass-looking scar. You’ve come out of the experience a little wiser. A little tougher. A little better at masking your fear that you’ve wasted your life pursuing a vocation with nothing to show for it but carpal tunnel syndrome. That’s natural. Embrace it. Now send that story to another magazine! When your SASE returns home to you with nothing to show for its efforts, welcome it home like in the parable of the prodigal son, with a big celebration (seriously, order that pizza already). That story will be disappointing you for years to come, so you may as well learn to enjoy it.
Help out your fellow writers! Share your tips on coping with rejection in the comments.