Challenge,  publishing

Rejections From The Past

Makes Me Realize Why I Am Here…

Today, towards the end of the 16 hour day of packing and moving, I was sorting through boxes of old filing and stuff that needs to come to Vegas and I came across a banker’s box completely full.

It had five of those massive photo albums in it, all bursting with too much stuff. Each album contained an entire year of rejection slips. I used to put all my rejections in these big photo albums before I learned that the rejection slips need to be filed with a copy of the story and so on.

So I opened up one of the big albums and it had hundreds and hundreds of rejections from all the top magazines and editors like Terry Carr, now long dead. And a few were rejections for stories I don’t remember even writing, and one was for a story I sort of remember, but can’t find.

Rough count easily three thousand rejection slips in those five years. Easily.

And being tired after a long day I looked at all those rejections and realized it was because I could get that many rejections, and keep going and not give up was the very reason I am here now. So many writers get a few rejections and give up. I just kept writing and sending out stories. Year after year, story after story.

I kept writing, never rewrote, kept learning, kept moving forward.

For example, one of the rejections was for a story of mine called “The Mouth that Walked.” Gardner said it was too strange for Asimov’s. I sold that story to Amazing Magazine and over the years it has been reprinted a bunch of times, and I put it in Smith’s Monthly, and this last month is was in the first volume of Year of the Cat.

Luckily, like so many beginning writers, I didn’t stop because I got a rejection. Or two.

Or over three thousand in five years.

And if you don’t think you can get three thousand rejections in five years, in those five years I wrote just over 200 short stories. And I was stunningly good at marketing and keeping stories in the mail, at times having 70 different stories out to editors. One story in those years was rejected 34 times and sold on the 35th time out to Gambling Times Magazine.

Sometimes the evidence of why I am a successful writer appears in one old box. And tells so much about why I am here and why so many others who started with me are not.



  • Martin

    Thank you so much for sharing this experience with us, Dean. A new author should keep on writing, learning, writing more and never look back. I personally know many selfpublished authors here in Germany who gave up after their second (!) novel, because of unrealistic income expectations.

    • dwsmith

      Sadly, I see that all the time. Like saying you want to be a lawyer, but since you are making no money after the first half year in undergrad college you give up. Shows the lack of respect in the profession, actually. Or a deep lack of knowledge about the profession. Or more likely a character flaw of the person who gave up.

  • Philip

    Awesome post. What sad, too, is these days in indie a lot writers invent their own “rejection slips” in the form of “this book didn’t sell, so I won’t write the next.”

    • Rose

      This was heartening to see. As an indie, I see a lot of “how I became successful”-type posts from writers who have been putting out work for a year or two (sometimes less). Which is awesome for them! But posts like this are great encouragement while I try to maintain a longer-term mindset.

  • Britt Malka

    “Luckily, like so many beginning writers, I didn’t stop because I got a rejection. Or two.”

    I don’t think it has to do with luck. Persistence? Confidence? I don’t know. I wish I knew what it was that made some people go for it, while others don’t even start. Or “try” once or twice.

    I’m in contact with a lot of other writers. Some never publish. Not once. Not because they get rejections, because they plan to indie publish. But because of other reasons (excuses). They are afraid to get disappointed.

    So apparently, they prefer not to play, not even having a chance to win, instead of playing, and maybe win, maybe lose. At least to begin with.

  • E. R. Paskey

    Wow, talk about some perspective! Thanks for sharing.

    The more I learn, the more I study long-term pros, and the farther I come in this process myself, the more I see that persistence–an unswerving desire to keep going and not give up–really is the key to this business.

    After having fun, of course. 😀 Or perhaps directly tied in with that, since why else would we keep doing this if it wasn’t fun?

  • CEC

    Thanks for sharing this, Dean. The perspective on persistence is a great reminder to keep plugging away regardless of the rejections.

  • Kate Pavelle

    You have some mean organizational skills to keep track of all those submissions in the mail – thus keeping the rejection slips with the story, I guess? I swear, paper is easier than electronic. It’s work just like anything, but at least it’s finite.

    • dwsmith

      I was very organized. And even now, if you get a rejection electronically, you should print it out and put it with the story.