Things I Wish I’d Known: Getting Rejected
By J.S. Watts
With Mark Meier’s indulgence and support, I’m embarking on a new blog post series called “Things I Wish I’d Known.” This is the second post in the series. The first was by way of an introduction and explanation. In this post I’m going to share my thoughts on an integral part of being a writer: getting rejected - repeatedly.
When I first started submitting my work for publication I can remember being told that if you want your writing to be published, but don’t choose to go down the self-publishing route, you will have your work rejected – over and over again. Whether it is a single poem, a short story or an entire novel, and regardless of the quality of your writing, you are going to receive a huge number of rejections. Even successful, big name authors have had them. Fine, I thought. Forewarned is forearmed: I’m prepared. Except I wasn’t.
I have had to learn the hard way that however many rejections you think you’ll get, you’ll actually receive more, way more. The sheer volume of rejections is potentially soul-crushing and more than sufficient to decorate the walls of a large family house.
I’ve also had to learn that getting your work published doesn’t result in a decrease in the quantity of rejections. I used to think that once I’d had some poems or short stories published, the rejections would decrease. They didn’t. Then I used to tell myself that when I’d had a book published the number of rejections would decrease. They didn’t. To date I’ve had six books and pamphlets published, have been regularly anthologised and have had some competition successes (though nothing big and shiny, competition wise), but the rejections keep on rolling in. The most recent one kindly said I write clunky sentences and can’t punctuate! I’m now telling myself that a big competition win, if I can ever manage it, will lead to a decrease in rejections, but I’m guessing it won’t.
Rejections continue to come in all shapes and sizes. They can be impersonal, overly personal, dismissive, supportive, rude, helpful and sometimes they do not even appear to relate to the work I’ve submitted. The art is to ignore them and learn from them simultaneously, but it’s difficult because, despite a reasonably successful publication history, they still hurt. I mean, clunky sentences and poor punctuation! I’m a freelance editor as well as a published writer and here I am licking my wounds over the self-evidently misguided rejection of one short story. The comments must be wrong. Surely? I mean…?
I regularly advise writers to develop a thick skin and move on, that for a writer going down the traditional publication route rejection is a necessary evil. I say get used to it if you want someone, other than yourself, to legitimately publish your work. It’s true, but as my own rejections continue to flood in they still hurt and I now acknowledge that they always will and are unlikely to stop (either arriving or hurting) until I stop writing.
Looking to the future, literally in the case of my next post, I shall be contemplating more things I wish I’d known roughly once a month. So feel free to check back here in about four weeks time to read my future thoughts.