my nine stages of rejection.

I don’t practice rejectomancy.  Rejections are a part of life for most writers, at least those who send their stuff out.  You get the rejection, it stings a bit, you file it away like a big boy/girl.  You understand that it’s nothing personal—there are a thousand reasons why the editor or publisher may not have a use for your story or novel, and almost none of them are “because I don’t like the writer”.

Every once in a while, of course, you get one that stings a little more than others.  Just like some rejections are so positive that your mind files them in the “Win” category (like the one I had last month, where I was told “not quite, but close—please send more”), there are some that cut the quick.

I recently submitted a story for an anthology.  I didn’t get a rejection, but the editor gave an update on her blog that mentioned the stuff she had gotten so far and didn’t like…which included a description of precisely the kind of story I had sent in.

Now, in a case like this, I still don’t engage in rejectomancy per se, but there’s a certain sequence of actions that tend to occur in the same pattern:

  1. Receive rejection.  Stare at the screen while alternately feeling mute anger and a sickening hollow feeling in your stomach.  Grind teeth, and read through the rejection several times.  Repeat until you’re so pissed off that you can’t bear to look at your stupid computer screen anymore.
  2. Get up, shut down stupid computer, and pace around the office.  Think about throwing out your pen and burning all your manuscripts, because they’re obviously all a waste of paper/electrons.  Get even more pissed off at the thought of all the time you’ve wasted with this writing shit when you could have taken up something productive like knitting or small animal taxidermy instead.  Vow never to write another word, and spend your free time eating M&Ms and playing videogames instead.
  3. Head to the kitchen and grab the comfort food appropriate to the daytime—a handful of M&Ms, a stiff drink, or both.
  4. Start a task that is as unrelated to writing as possible.  Household chores are good.  Do some dishes or scrub the bathroom while stewing over the rejection.  Go back on your earlier pledge to never write anything again.  Resolve to write something new that will not only make you a million bucks, but also win a whole garage full of Hugos.  Also resolve to mention the offending editor by name at the Hugo ceremony, and send her a copy of your advance check for Super-Awesome Opus She Rejected Because She Wouldn’t Know Good Fiction If It Bit Her In The Ass.  Revel in anticipation of the look on her face when she discovers that she rejected the literary equivalent of the freakin’ Beatles in their Hamburg club stage.
  5. Recall the rejection, and the specifics of it.  Dry the dishes and put away the laundry.  Consider the points raised.  While the editor’s taste is clearly all in her mouth, is there a possibility that the criticism has a kernel of truth to it?  Could it be that the story is not as awesome and airtight as you originally thought?  Feel righteous indignation slowly circle the drain along with the dirty dishwater.
  6. Finish your housework and sit back down at the computer.  Read through the rejected story again, with the criticism from the rejection in mind.
  7. See if—just hypothetically speaking, mind you—you could conceivably tweak or rewrite the story to address the main point of criticism in the rejection.
  8. Rewrite it just for the hell of it.  (Alternately, conclude that the editor just doesn’t share your tastes, and rejected what you see as a perfectly good story.)
  9. Send that sucker out again the very next day, to a different market.

And that’s pretty much the way it goes every time I get a particularly galling rejection.  I briefly wallow in anger, self-pity, petulance, and sweet thoughts of economic revenge.  But once I get over all those feelings, my attitude always turns into “Oh, yeah?  Well, we’ll see about that.  I’ll write something so good it’ll blow your socks off, pal.”

And then I sit down and get back to work.


9 thoughts on “my nine stages of rejection.

  1. Steve says:

    Marco, Please, please never give up writing. I enjoy your work immensely. I also forward it to friends, and people that I think your words resonate with. We agree on many issues, but you communicate it better than I ever could. End any self doubt, it’s not warranted.
    Thank you. -Steve Berkeley

  2. Al Terego says:

    What Nietzsche said.


  3. […] Nine stages of rejection. @ Munchkin Wrangler […]

  4. eli says:

    It’s all in the M&M’s.

  5. ibex says:

    Honestly, having read what little of your fiction you leaked to the internets, I just don’t get how you could possibly get a rejection, much less several.

    How many rejections are average for previously unpublished authors and how do you compare, if you don’t mind sharing?

  6. MarkHB says:

    The term that’s thrown around the VFX community for when you’ve had a wasted weekend thrown back in your face by a client with a change-sheet as long as my arm is “Rhino Skin”. You just learn to let it roll off you, nod, work the changes and resubmit.

    This can be painful when a model or scene you’ve worked on for a month gets shitcanned, but you learn to live with it.

    That, and I used to have a dead PC in my back garden that I’d kick around. I eventually blew it up with a double handful of dodgy Chinese fireworks.

    Hm. Must kill another ‘puter so I’ve got one to kick…

  7. Marja says:

    Think what all those editors who rejected the first Harry Potter manuscript must feel like, and imagine that happening to one of your manuscripts.

    You can both find such really, really good -couldn’t find a publisher stuff and so dreadfully bad published stuff that the whole process does seem totally incomprehensible at times.

    By the way, are you sending straight to publishers yourself, have an agent who is trying to find that publisher or are you hunting for an agent?

    • Marko Kloos says:

      Both. Novel #1 is on a publisher’s desk by request, and I’m also fishing for an agent at the same time with it because I need one. I’m shopping around the short stories directly with the publications.

  8. correia45 says:

    Speaking from experience, rejections suck, and some hurt way more than others. But the primary key to success in this business is just sticking with it. I’ve seen it over and over now. The writers who make it are the ones that treat it like a profession and never give up. They get better. They start to shine more and more while the dregs give up. Eventually you find that editor that you click with.

    And then years later you can totally gloat when you meet one of the agents that brutally rejected your manuscript (that later went on to be a NYT bestseller) when you are the guest of honor at a Con and they are just a panelist. “Yeah, I believe the word you used in your rejection was ‘unmarketable’. Bet you’d wished you had a 15% cut of the 10 books I’ve got under contract now, huh douchebag?” 🙂

    Okay, I’ve never said that to any of the agents that rejected me because I’m too polite and professional, but it has been tempting a few times. :p

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