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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Head to the kitchen and grab the comfort food appropriate to the daytime—a handful of M&Ms, a stiff drink, or both.
- 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.
- 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.
- Finish your housework and sit back down at the computer. Read through the rejected story again, with the criticism from the rejection in mind.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.