Author Stacy Barton blogs about her favorite aspects of having her work rejected.
I’m a writer. I write. I submit. I get rejected. Sometimes I get published. The writer’s working life is all about rejection. But we know that, right? Of course there are those writers in our midst who seem to be charmed, celebrating regular acceptances into the “big” literary journals every time we turn around. But no one seems to like those writers very much.
In the past five or six years I’ve had a little more than a dozen journal publications, but I mostly get rejections. Some of them are fabulous. You laugh, but I am a fan of the Fabulous Rejection. I relish rejections that read like acceptances…or at least include a lovely personal note about how fine my work is. But let’s face it – now matter how fabulous, the answer is still “No.”
But not always. I do have some journal publications, a couple of books, and my second agent. So there have been a few yeses along the way. There’s hope. However, the plain truth is that it’s hard to get published. Especially these days. And so instead of getting angry, we should treasure any glimmer of hope a rejection might offer, relish any comment that suggests we are in the right field and implies that we really shouldn’t take up dental hygiene.
That’s why I hang onto every handwritten note I receive from a literary journal that says, “we liked your work,” any email comment that reads, “we find your work promising” or “please send us something else,” any glowing paragraph sent to my agent about how the quality of my novel indicates that I am “one to watch.”
I save these. Literally. Some of the beautiful rejections that have come through my agent make me ache. Ache with disappointment and ache with hope. How can you be angry that a top editor said “no” when she spent two paragraphs complimenting your writing style and perfectly capturing the essence of your novel? How can you not be thrilled that one of the hottest editors/houses not only read your proposal, but your entire novel clear to the end?
As for short fiction, the prevailing wisdom is that if you get personal touches like these in your short story rejections, you should submit again. I try to keep two short stories ready to go so that when I get this sort of personalized rejection from a literary journal I have another story I can send in response. I have been told by journal editors that when they write a personal message like that, they are saying, “send us something else.” And so we must. Right away.
When I was between agents, my novel got some fabulous rejections from some of the smaller, but prestigious, literary houses. My favorite was, “it’s beautifully written; don’t change a thing, it just isn’t for us.” That comment was followed by the names of two editors at two other fine publishing houses.
The agent I have now spent the past year sending that same novel to the big guns. The huge houses I never thought my work would see. And I am thrilled to say that the top of our list sent my agent many fabulous rejections. Glowing rejections I have saved on my desktop, available in two clicks for my perusal. One of the heartbreakers began with one editor saying, “You should send it to so-and-so” (you would know her name if I revealed it). My agent got my novel across this hugely successful editor-turned-publisher’s desk. She read it. She said no. That cost me an entire week of misery, but I relish that rejection because it came from one of the “bigs.” As an actor friend of mine once gleefully said, “We’re getting rejected by a better class of people.”
I was an actress for 15 years before I began to write seriously and the ratio of rejections is much the same. You audition for dozens and dozens of shows before you get a callback, and many callbacks before you land a gig.
A writer’s life is a life of rejection. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something…probably a self-publishing package. The craft itself is glorious, painful, exhilarating, excruciating, revealing, rewarding and completely worth the effort, but if you are not up for many, many, many rejections, you might want to take up dental hygiene.
Stacy Barton’s stories have appeared, or are forthcoming, in a variety of literary journals including Gargoyle Magazine, Potomac Review, Southern Women’s Review, Relief, Ricochet (Australia) and Ruminate. Her story “That Exit” was recently chosen for Potomac Review’s, “Best of 50” anniversary issue. Her collection of short stories, Surviving Nashville, was released by WordFarm in 2007, and the audio version will be available soon. In addition to short fiction, Stacy is the author of a picture book, several one-act plays, a Ringling Bros. Circus and an animated short film. Currently, she works as a free-lance scriptwriter for the Disney Company. Visit her at www.stacybarton.com or follow her on twitter @stacybarton.