Rejection letters are part of the package deal of being an active writer. A really excellent article from Lit Hub even suggests getting 100 rejection letters a year is a great goal to set, because it means you’re constantly working, constantly writing. Those notes denying publication–especially if you’re aiming to get 20+ annually–pile up fast.
Most writers I know do something with their rejection letters. Some use them as kindling. Some store them in a file they only open when they’re feeling particularly self-depricating. One of my English professors had a friend who once laquered her coffee table with rejection letters. There are many creative, even helpful uses for rejection letters, but that doesn’t make them easy to read or a pleasure to receive. Many times I have opened my inbox to see a much-awaited email from a publication. I have tried to ignore the hopeful flutter in my chest and the following plummet as I read the form rejection: “Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, we can’t accept it.”
I have received many rejections. Today, I wrote one.
I work for a publisher who recently hosted a literary contest. As the pub date for that anthology draws closer, I was assigned the task of informing contributors whether or not they were accepted for publication. Due to technical difficulties in the office, it took longer than expected to start typing these letters. But my struggle to get it done didn’t have anything to do with my IT issues. It took me a full hour to send them all because, just like when I submit my own work, my cursor hovered longer than necessary over “send,” thinking about what the receiver of each message would think of my words.
As I sent one painful email after another, I found myself wondering where each one would eventually end up. Plastered on a bathroom wall, piled in a tear-splattered folder, or set ablaze from spite. Few of these writers had ever been published before. Many of them would be reading “Thanks, unfortunately” for the first time. Many of them would take the email in stride, glad they at least tried, and continue. Others might never try again. And that is what upset me most–the idea that, for some, “no” would resound throughout their fledgling creative career.
I still have the very first rejection letter I ever received. I expected it from submission, unwilling to get hopeful. I read at least three times the evening I received it, and I’ve read it a dozen times since. Not out of any amount of self-pity, but because it was actually one of the most encouraging things I’ve ever read.
The last line of the email was, “Good luck with all your publishing endeavors.”
Maybe that’s not too monumental for some, but for me–finishing college, wondering whether or not my writing was worth pursuing in college–it meant the world. Maybe the sender couldn’t, or wouldn’t, help me get published, but they assumed I would continue trying. They assumed their rejection letter wouldn’t be the last one I ever received, because I would endeavor to publish many times after, and, eventually, succeed.
I tried to remember that as I imagined the fluttering and plummeting hearts of the contributors I emailed this afternoon. I tried to end each email with the same sentiment that had so encouraged me. That the best thing I could do was to try again. I ended each email with, “Keep writing.”
Tomorrow I will send the acceptance letters, and I will end them the same way. Because as a writer and as a person trying to improve, the worst thing you could do is stop trying again.