Reveling in Rejection


A word from our author

Essay and Image copyright 2013

by Janet Grace Riehl

If you are going to write for any other reason than to send a letter to your mother, you—as a writer—are going to have to come to terms with varying degrees and types of rejection. There is the rejection of apathy in which other people really don’t care about what you have to say in writing. There is the rejection of the doltish person in your critique group who just doesn’t get it, or, worse, has been waiting for this chance to angle into someone else’s work. Then, there is the outright rejection of sending out a piece to a literary journal and, guess what? It doesn’t suit their needs at the present time.

 I learned to love rejection—at least this last sort—even to revel in it, and you can too. Here’s how.

Develop a system. For instance, send out 30 multiple submissions every six weeks to the top journals. Keep track of your submissions on a spreadsheet so you’ll know what’s been accepted, rejected, and pending. I’ve found these sheets useful even half dozen years after the submission cycle when researching someone I met or am about to meet who ran one of the journals I submitted to, for instance.

Play the numbers. It’s about quality, of course, but even more, once you get serious about submitting for publication, it’s about numbers. It’s a little like playing the horses at the track, I guess, though I only did that once in South Africa under a friend’s guidance. You know you won’t always win, and that you’re doing it for kicks. Quantity raises your chances of getting a “yes.”

A “no” means a “yes” is on its way. Good salespeople know this, so learn to know this, too, and feel it in your bones. There’s an equation in sales of nine “no’s” for every “yes.” I’m not sure what the math equation is in submission, but the principle is the same.

Rejection letters are fun. Yes, truly, they are! I loved getting all that mail. I loved getting mail from places I admired, like “The Paris Review.” So what if they were rejecting my work? They were writing me, in an envelope, with a stamp on it, and a note inside with their letterhead on it. And, they make good wallpaper for your writing study.

Practice textual analysis. All rejection letters are not equal. I learned to notice the varying tones of even printed letters, and that made receiving these letters enormously entertaining. I started critiquing the rejection letters for style, courtesy, and substance.

Cherish the hand-written note. On rare occasions in the submission cycle, you’ll receive a hand-written note. Cherish these. I still save mine, from both famous and not-so-famous people.  Sometimes these brief, scrawled notes said something encouraging and insightful.

Develop the rejection chuckle. Be philosophical. It’s a mad, mad world out there, but rejection shows that you are alive and writing and in the game. Be glad.

Celebrate acceptance.  When that acceptance letter does come, do the happy dance. Eat more than one square of your chocolate bar. Pet your cat. Pet your dog. And write some more stuff to send out,  to prepare the way for…you guessed it…more rejection. But, as you now know, there’s no reason to be abject about rejection. Relish it. Rejection is fun. Who knew?

How do you handle rejection? Let us know by joining the conversation in the comments below.


Visit Janet  on “Riehl Life: Village Wisdom for the 21st Century where creating connections is the point of it all.

15 responses to “Reveling in Rejection

  1. Reblogged this on creativityorcrazy and commented:
    Love this… 🙂 It brought a smile to my face and is probably one of the best things I’ve read about writing rejection.

  2. Loved this! Reblogged it over on my blog. I think it is probably the absolutely best thing I’ve ever read about writing rejection. Much better outlook to take than the “woe-is-me” approach. Thanks! 🙂

  3. Your take on rejection gives me a whole new perspective.

  4. Janet, I always love and admire your optimism, and this is the perfect example of it. Great advice, and very timely for me!

  5. Janet, a good grounding in dealing with a subject that I’ve also written about in An Artist Empowered.

    “Rejection, as it turns out, isn’t the bane most artists believe it is; rejection is a mirror that reveals truth about your dedication; you are compelled to confront your own self and that is a moment of awareness.”

    “The true artist will always find a way.”

    Also, some artists collect their rejection slips as proof (maybe for the IRS) that they are working artists.

    • Eden,

      Yes, this is one of the excellent aspects of your book. Here is an interview we did on Riehlife about rejection and its function in an artist’s life.

      *If you know your purpose and the value of your process, then nothing will deter you from your mission, your dharma.—Eden Maxwell*

      [image: An Artist Empowered by Eden Maxwell]

      No matter what your art form or field of expression: visual arts, performing arts, or writing—one thing is for certain: you will encounter rejection. When you do, *what is the most healthy and useful way to respond? * Eden Maxwell, author of “An Artist Empowered: Define and Establish Your Value as an ArtistNow” offers these suggestions:

      1. Know why you are an artist. 2. Know your purpose and the value of your process. 3. View rejection as a mirror that reveals truth about your dedication. 4. Confront yourself and this moment of awareness. 5. Use rejection as a moment of awareness, not a pool in which to drown. 6. Stay focused on results, but unattached to the results of your efforts. 7. A daily spiritual practice helps you keep life, art, and rejection in perspective.

      Eden expands here on these seven suggestions.

      *Riehlife:* *Eden, talk about your approach to rejection in the arts. How does this relate to your spiritual practice?*

      *Eden Maxwell:* As a writer and a painter, I have been on the receiving end of both acceptance and rejection and each has its own set of issues.

      Why am I an artist?

      *It all comes back full circle to the core question: Why are you an artist?*

      If you know your purpose and the value of your process, then nothing will deter you from your mission, your dharma.

      *Riehlife:** What is the true purpose of rejection, in your view?*

      *Eden:* Rejection, as it turns out, isn’t the bane most artists believe it is. *Rejection is a mirror that reveals truth *about your dedication; you are compelled to confront your own self and that is a moment of awareness.

      *Riehlife:* *How can the creative person learn from rejection?*

      *Eden:* If you are to learn from rejection, *use the experience as a moment of reflection, not a pool in which to drown.*

      Should my art be rejected, I understand that if they could see it, could appreciate it, then they would. Also, a rejection from an anonymous party is no cause for faltering. I have seen great art ignored, and mediocre embraced.

      *Riehlife:* *How can the artist balance the need to have goals and yet to hold these goals lightly?*

      *Eden:* Having goals is good; wanting to share your unique gift is good; making art is good.

      Keeping these desires in mind, I also realize that getting attached to any outcome is a self-made prison.*Releasing your attachment to an outcome frees you to see other opportunities.*

      I strive to have no attachment in how a particular outcome manifests. I work; I create; I have faith in fulfilling my dharma; and my evolving strength tells me the Universe is handling the details.

      So, no matter what is happening, I focus on the true goal, and the goal is this: understanding.

  6. Janet: Thanks for reposting the interview, which holds up well.

    It’s also important, as you point out to have a sense of humor, especially about your own self. Rejection is not failure; failure is when you give up on your dharma, your unique gift.

  7. Janet: Here’s another spicy morsel from my book. Readers often tell me this is one of their favorite quotes. Writers take heart.

    Although the account described below is about writing, the point is vividly relevant for all creators. While reading about the travails of other artists, and how they overcame difficulties in their life quests is certainly inspirational, it is still, at the very best, secondhand information, which is exactly what it sounds like.

    “In 1969, Steps, a novel, by Jerzy Kosinski, won the National Book Award. Six years later a freelance writer named Chuck Ross, to test the old theory that a novel by an unknown writer doesn’t have a chance, typed the first twenty-one pages of Steps and sent them out to four publishers as the work of ‘Erik Demos’. All four rejected the manuscript. Two years after that he typed out the whole book and sent it, again credited to Erik Demos, to more publishers, including the original publisher of the Kosinski book, Random House. Again, all rejected it with unhelpful comments—Random House used a form letter. Al-together, fourteen publishers (and thirteen literary agents) failed to recognize a book that had already been published and had won an important prize.”

    —from Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews & Rejections

  8. A friend of mine says you’re not a “real writer” until you can wallpaper your bathroom with rejection letters. I remain thankful I have a small bathroom, and try to grow thick skin. I hear chocolate is good for that. : )

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