Short Stories: Writing for Rejection

If you are an aspiring writer trying to break in, all those rejection letters can crush your soul. Perhaps you are considering self-publishing as a way to get your stuff out there sooner. If so, I recommend giving my last post a read.

Rejections are the norm. The internet is filled with stories of new writers getting five, ten, or twenty rejections in a row and then quitting, assuming they are no good at writing. The rejections are bad, but the quitting is much worse. Yet at least that last part can be avoided. How? By intentionally aiming for rejection.

I don’t mean you should write sloppy stories. Even technically perfect stories with moving characters and exciting plots get rejections when they don’t fit the flavor an editor is looking for. You should always aim for writing that smashing hit.  Follow the editor’s submission process, read their rules on formatting, and get as much outside help as you can to tune up your story before submitting.

But I thought you said the goal is to get as many rejections as you can?

Yep, that’s the goal. To do this, you have to write a lot of stories and submit them all over the place. Remember how rejections are the norm? Well, by doing this, you will get tons and tons of rejections. Yay! You should celebrate when you get a rejection letter, because that means you got some writing practice. Now you can freshen up and submit your story somewhere else and get another one. Try to collect as many rejection letters as you can for each story. Write a lot of stories so that you can have dozens of them out for rejection at the same time. The more you write, the better you get at writing.

There is a really good article on shooting for rejection here:

Some Rejections Provide Insight

Most rejections from short-story publishers are simple form letters. You know how they go:

Dr. Mr. Benamati,

Thank you for giving us the chance to read “The Last Windmill”. Unfortunately it does not fit what we are currently looking for. We wish you the best of luck in placing it elsewhere. 

Sincerely,

-The Editors

I received a bunch of form letter rejections for this story before finally getting one that said a bit more from a pro market. It was a nice note that said I had gotten through the slush pile and the assistant editor, and that the head editor just wasn’t feeling it.

Now, that is feedback! My windmill story is probably the best thing I have ever written, but had I stopped after the first five rejection letters I would have thought it stunk. I’ve since gotten personal notes from two other editors, plus feedback from Critique Circle that has convinced me this story is good. That feels great! And it all happened because I’m focusing on rejection letters.

If You Get Rejected A Lot, You Will Eventually Sell a Story

Writing is a numbers game. It is unlikely that any writer who submits a hundred different stories to ten different markets will get rejected 1000 times (unless they have some major issue such as no command of the language in which they are writing). After writing and submitting all those stories, you will start to get an idea of what you are doing. By 100-200 stories, you will probably get a sale (or at least some personal feedback here and there that will help you get better).

One thing I’ve found helpful is to keep a Battle Board. This is a spreadsheet that tracks which markets you have submitted stories to. You can color-code it up. In my case I used red for rejections, yellow for pending, and green for sales. As you can see, there is a lot of red. My goal is to get color in all of those cells, and to not care if it’s red, yellow, or green. This would mean I have submitted all those stories to all those markets, which is bound to eventually result in some sales.

Battle Board

When you Write for Rejection, Acceptance Feels Great

This is the best part of trying to get as many rejections as possible. When you are happy about rejection letters, imagine how you feel when you actually sell a story! I sold my first short story to Helios Quarterly Magazine after receiving twenty rejections elsewhere, and I was elated. I have since gotten thirty more rejections and two other sales (also a great experience).

Tempered by Fire

Rejections are a tool. Just as metal alloys can be tempered in the kiln for better strength, rejection letters help authors to feel the heat. They force us to critique our own writing, analyze our process, and to ultimately get better. Of course there will be times when all those rejections feel discouraging, but don’t give up. Keep writing, collect those form letters, and see how much better you get.

 

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