Handling Rejection

I’ve had my share of rejection–in publishing and in life.

I think back on all the girls I had crushes on, some of them so profound I thought my heart would jump out of my chest. Invariably, they would say something like, “I like you…but not in THAT way,” or “You don’t want to ruin our friendship, do you?”

Well, yeah. Because usually after being jilted, that friendship is history anyway.

I remember one girl I met in Austria. Sissel was a beautiful 16 year old Norwegian beauty (did I say she was beautiful?). And before you get the wrong idea, I was 18 at the time. I got it into my mind that I would make her love me. Instead, I saw her kissing my best friend upstairs in the administration building where I was going to school. I thought I would die. Then there was Gabi. Another heartthrob, another one that I thought I had a chance with, another one that ripped my heart out and stomped on it.

At the end of that year in Austria, Sissel pulled me aside and told me, “Someday you are going to meet someone very special and she will be the one for you.” And you know what? She was right. It seemed like a long time then, but within a year, I had met Shelly, the girl who would win my heart and capture me for the next 34 years.

So what does all this have to do with writing? Well, I suspect that all those rejections through elementary school, high school and college did something to prepare me for other rejections–the writing kind. For as I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, I have had my share.

When I was in college, I fell in love with Insight Magazine, and just knew that I would have made it in the world if I could just get published in that magazine. (What’s interesting is that one of the editors was Ken McFarland, who years later hired me as a book editor for Pacific Press.) I tried, and I tried to get published by Insight, but to no avail. Finally I got a rejection slip back that gave me some hope. In addition to the form note on the slip, someone–one of the editors, I hope–simply scrawled, “Please, try again.” I got a handwritten message–from a REAL HUMAN BEING! At last I was showing some progress.

That was in the early 70s. In 1993, when my father was dying of lung cancer, I started writing stories again for my own therapy, and sent one of them to Insight. And they published it. Not only that, they wanted more. And so I reached my goal that was 20 years old.

Since that day in 1993, I have had more than 100 stories and articles published in various magazines. I have had seven books published, and am working on several more. But what that doesn’t tell you is that even though seven books have been published, I have WRITTEN twice that many.

Rejection is something we all have to deal with, in one form or another. When it comes to writing, the critical thing is to accept it as a fact of life, and don’t let it immobilize your forward progress. So here are a few tips that I am making up as I sit here:

1. REJECTION HAPPENS. Like I tell my students, if I haven’t scribbled on your paper with red ink, that just means I haven’t read it. Rejection comes to everyone, so don’t think you have been singled out as a stinker because you get a “No” message from an editor.

2. LEARN TO SEPARATE YOUR EGO FROM YOUR PAPER. You have to invest your ego to write the sucker, and do a good job. But at some point you have to let go. If that story is rejected, that doesn’t mean YOU are rejected, regardless of how it feels. Publishing is a team effort, and you are just part of the process. Let it go.

3. THERE ARE MANY REASONS FOR REJECTION. I’ve been an editor, so I know. Poor writing will guarantee a rejection, but there are many other reasons for throwing that ms. back to the writer. The editor could have maxed out his budget. They may have accepted another manuscript just like it yesterday. Or they may have a policy against publishing stories about Amish zombies to keep from offending their Amish advertisers. Don’t assume you’re a lousy writer because you were rejected. Of course, if you ARE a lousy writer, that’s another issue.

4. MOVE ON. The old saying is, “a watched pot never boils.” The same goes for writing. The day you send out your manuscript for potential publication is the day you should be working on your next story. That way, when the response takes three times as long as you think it should, you won’t be sitting there chomping at the bit. You’ll have other things going on.

I continue to deal with rejection issues, even after all these years. But I try to be philosophical about it. And since I have a good woman who loves me, I try to put it all in perspective.

3 thoughts on “Handling Rejection

  1. Great advice, Glen! I now view rejection letters as a symbol of how I keep on putting myself out there – they are a symbol of my bravery 🙂 And thankfully I’ve had enough success to know that I’m not a total failure as a writer. I’ve got a lot to learn still, but I’ve got confidence in my own ability as a writer and realise there are so many external factors that influence a publisher’s decision. Love the parallel to young love 🙂

  2. I’ve told this story in many different places so I guess I’ll tell it here on your blog as well as it kind of underlines the point you’re making. The writers’ group to which I have belonged for many years hosts an annual “rejection slip contest” in which the winner is the person who collects the most rejections in a given year, and that person is taken out to dinner by the rest. And yes, I won it once. The point is that it rewards those who have the courage and perseverance to keep putting their work out there.

  3. I have yet to receive a rejection letter (maybe because I haven’t sent anything out yet.) However, I think this will give me hope for the future when I know I will face rejection. I think it is unrealistic to think that rejection will never come in your life and I’m glad you have given us this realistic look into not only rejection in the world of writing but also in also aspects.

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