Most Beginning Writers Think of Rejection Wrong…
And for some reason, lately, I’ve been noticing that more and more. And finally, today, after hearing issues with rejections from three different writers, I finally decided I needed to say something here.
Let me say this as simply as I can:
Rejections are positive.
That’s right, they are the best indicator in building a publishing career that you are doing a lot of things right.
— You are mailing your stories to editors to try to advance your career and get great advertisement for your indie work.
— You are trying new things, pushing your own limits, working to be a better storyteller.
— Sales of stories are a numbers game. Especially early on.
In my early days I sold about 1 story in 20 that I wrote. To make that one sale, I often had to get fifty to one hundred or more rejections over those 20 stories.
Then as I kept working on my craft, my sell-through percentage increased. For a while I remember being solidly at selling 5 out of every 20 short stories I wrote.
And, of course, I kept all the stories in the mail all the time. (I never gave up as so many writers do today, but of course I did not have indie publishing back then.)
And, of course, I had to write the stories. One per week.
And I kept learning everything I could about craft.
The sell-through kept getting better the more stories I wrote, the more I learned about craft. Go figure.
In my last days of submitting stories regularly, I was selling 3 out of 4 stories I wrote.
But I have thousands and thousands of rejections in my notebooks and files. And if I had thought any one of those rejections was a failure, I never would have sold any story.
As many say, rejections are just a part of this business.
But to me, they were positive. They were a clear indication I was doing something right.
Recently online one guy was talking about having a hundred rejections and was getting discouraged. I am sure if Kevin Anderson saw that, he would laugh just as I did. I got far, far more than a hundred rejections a year when I was pushing in my early days.
Hell, some months I got that many. Poor, sad, internet guy.
But, of course, I had seventy different stories in the mail or more. And had a system to just put them back in the mail. (And in my day, it was mail.)
So those of you who think I just sprang from the forehead of Zeus fully formed as a writer, now you know. I understood that rejection did nothing but show me a story wasn’t right for an editor.
It might not be right because the story sucked. It might not be right because the editor had just bought something similar two days before, it might not be right because it didn’t fit the editor’s image of what they wanted. And a ton of other smaller reasons.
I didn’t care. I wrote the story, mailed it, forgot about it until it came back, put it back out, and slowly made sales. And kept working at becoming a better storyteller by writing more and more stories.
And guess what? All those rejections were constant reminders I was working at my chosen craft, working to be a better storyteller.
And those rejections as they poured in reminded me that I was writing a lot while around me so many of my friends were not. And then they wondered how I managed to sell so much and eventually make a living.
Rejections were a positive thing because they proved to me I was on the right track.
How many rejections do I have in my files and notebooks? (Actually large picture albums I stuck them in for a year or two.) Not a clue, but I do know that one year in 1985, just before my house fire, I counted over six hundred rejections.
My favorite rejection of all time was from Asimov’s Magazine back in 1982 or so.
“Dear Dean, Sorry, we do not want to pioneer new roads into tastelessness.” Signed George (Scithers).
I sold that story to Damon Knight for his Clarion Awards anthology the very next month in early 1983. And it was my first fully professional sale. Second professional sale was to the first volume of Writers of the Future two weeks after I sold the story to Damon. Five days after that I sold a third story to Oui Magazine. (The illustration to that story hangs in our condo entrance.)
At that point I had about 50-60 different short stories in the mail since I had been writing one per week since January 1982 and keeping every one of them in the mail.
And I was getting a lot of rejections every day, every week, every month. But you know what mattered? I had sold three stories, that’s what mattered.
Not in a million years would I have sold those stories if I didn’t think rejection was a positive indicator of my path into this career.
So flip your thinking on rejection. Rejection is positive, shows you are doing something right, get the story back out to another editor and write another story.
Eventually the system works if you keep learning craft along the way and writing new stories.