Mulling over Rejection

Image courtesy of cooldesign at

Image courtesy of cooldesign at

I received a very nice rejection letter today. I know what you’re thinking. A “nice rejection” sounds like an oxymoron. Once I would have agreed with you but that was before I started submitting pieces for publication.

My previous experience with rejection letters was not pleasant. Most of that experience dealt with applying to law schools and later to law firms. “We are sorry but you have not been selected for admission…” “We are unable to offer you a position…” My law school classmates created a wailing wall where we could post our rejection letters for all to see and to commiserate. We didn’t scrutinize the letters for nuance and hidden meanings. The process was cut and dry: you have been examined and found lacking; there is no place for you here. There was no joy in these letters, no hope to be found.

As a writer, my perspective has changed dramatically. We’ve all heard the anecdotes that there are several tiers of rejection. Looking at the letters I’ve received over the past year, I believe that may be true. I examine the rejection emails to see if they are personal or not, I search for nuances in the phrasing. I look for any words of encouragement, any sign that I’m getting closer to the mark. Sometimes, I spend too much psychic energy in this exercise. But occasionally, I receive an email that says “Not this time, but please submit again.” Those letters I save to refer to later, when I have another piece I believe is ready to send out into the world.

I can’t think of another profession where one celebrates the failures, the near-misses. Wait, let me clarify that thought. A few professions come to mind: acting, music, the visual arts. Artists of all types have experienced the “almosts”: “I was in the semi-finals for the singing competition.” “I made the final group in the audition.” These near-misses give us hope; they help us to keep trying even in the face of adversity. Writers in particular revel in the “almosts”. We share our news with other writers, who nod and share their own experiences: “My piece won an Honorable Mention in the writing contest.” “Yes, I was in the top 25 Finalists for ____.” These are victories of a sort.

Today’s inbox contained a rejection letter in which the editor took time out of a grueling schedule to include a few positive words.  “While the quality of the writing and pacing were strong, especially for a short-short, this piece just doesn’t seem like a good fit for Allegory…” Thank you, Ty Drago, for those encouraging words.

Now, to get back to writing those pieces to send out…

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3 Responses to Mulling over Rejection

  1. James L says:

    Nice post, it got me thinking about rejection.

    I have never really submitted any writing except when I was younger and wrote poetry. One competition I entered got back to me and said although I had not won the competition they would be featuring me in a book – which can be yours for £16.99. It was quiet flattering and to be featured in print appeal, so I bought 4 copies of the book to give to relatives.

    It was disappointing seeing 200 poems crammed in one book, but it did make me cynical and aware of ‘vanity publishing’ in the creative writing industry.



    • renobarb says:

      Oh, I am sorry! I’ve heard about those “contests” and how they prey on people by selling them books that end up being poorly edited. But if you ever decide to send poetry out into the world again, don’t let that experience discourage you. (and as you climb that corporate ladder you talk about in your blog, you may find some excellent material to write about 🙂 )

      • James L says:

        It was a rookie mistake, but it hasn’t put me off writing completely – although I am not really poetic as I was as a 20 year old!

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