Monday, April 21, 2008

Rejection by Mechele Dillard

Rejection: The never-ending cross we bear for choosing the writing life.


Rejection is something a writer simply must, ironically, accept if she is going to remain a writer for any length of time. Everyone gets their share of rejections from publishers, editors, and, yes, seemingly pitiful publications—seriously, let’s be real here and admit it: We’ve all groused, if only to ourselves, “These people should have been honored to get my quality of writing offered to their dinky little paper/newsletter/magazine/rag; how dare they!”

But, dare they do and we, as writers, just have to suck it up and go on.

We’ve all read those boring articles about rejection—how to minimize it and such, rehashing everything we’ve known since we decided to label ourselves “writers.”


Yes, okay, I’ll make sure that I follow the publication’s submission guidelines to the letter; alright, I’ll do my best to find out to whom I am writing, and not take the, “Dear Sir/Madam/Editor” shortcut; sure, sure, I’ll craft my query carefully, thoroughly and personally, so that the editor not only understands my ideas, but sees my ability to consider, question, address and convince; and, of course, I won’t just send my queries off half-cocked to any publication for which I can obtain an address, having no idea what they even print.

Yes, I’ll do all of those things.

And, yes, I’ll still receive rejections.

The fact of the matter is that, truly, as they say, it’s just business. Your work may be good. It may be great. But, it may not be the editor’s cup of tea. Or it may be similar to something they recently printed, or have slated to run in the near future. And, quite often, editors will include a personal response with such rejections. Editors are not monsters, and most do not thrill at breaking the spirit of writers who submit to their publications. Many will do what they can to be encouraging when the writer’s work is good, to let her know that, yes, this rejection is a business decision, and not a negative statement on her abilities as a writer. So, appreciate the significance conveyed when an editor takes the time to jot a note, explain why they didn’t accept a piece, or even craft a personal rejection instead of using the basic form letter.

But, that type of rejection is not the end of it—it’s not even the worst of it. The worst of it is much closer to home.

The most crushing blow comes when we feel friends, family, and, well, anyone we know rejects our choice to embrace the writing life.

Have you ever had someone read an article you wrote for, oh, the local paper, and say, in that sweet, condescending voice, “Oh, how nice of them to publish your stuff.” Or, when you got your first shot at a national trade magazine, was your friend’s sole comment, “Huh—I’ve never heard of that one.” Oh, and when you had an opportunity to write regularly for a real publishing house, albeit an extremely small one, did a well-meaning family member take it upon himself to point out, “Oh, well, that’s good, I guess, but isn’t that kinda low-paying?”


Friends and family are generally well-meaning when they say these things. They usually don’t realize they are making us feel about two inches tall when they insist on asking such questions instead of just sharing in the positivity of our latest step forward. But, intentional or not, such reactions hurt. Really hurt. They undermine the confidence of the most arrogant among us, and make us question our viability as writers. Maybe, we tell ourselves, it’s just time to face facts: I don’t have what it takes to make it in the writing world.

You know, there is an old adage, “Writers write.” And, it’s true. It’s just what we do. We may have other jobs that pay the bills. We might get excited over “breaks” that no one but a fellow writer could possibly understand. And, after adding up the cost of electricity, phone calls, paper, ink, postage, time and coffee, we may actually lose money on many of our projects. But, we keep right on writing, anyway.

Crazy? Maybe.

But, writers write; it’s just what we do.

I wish I could assure everyone out there that they will meet their writing goals. I wish I could give you a concrete solution for avoiding rejection in the future. And, truly, I wish I could offer something profound, something that could carry each and every one of you over when someone points out, “You know, Mary Terry Blackberry had a story published in Reader’s Digest last month, and she told me it was the first thing she ever sent somewhere like that—you’ve never had anything published there, have you?”


But, my friends, despite my lack of magic words, I offer you this: No matter how good you may be, if you do not write, if you do not submit, if you do not try, I can guarantee, 100%, you will not get published.

And, you will not be a writer.

Not because you are not published.

Not because you are not well-recognized.

Not even because you are not making a living.

But, because writers write.

And, rejection by anyone, professional or personal, is not a reason for a true writer to lay down her quill. It may be unpleasant, and we may not like it, but rejection is a sure sign we are putting in the time to reach our goals.

Oh, and, of course, don’t forget to send your best work, and proofread for spelling errors; absolutely stay within the recommended word count; oh, and, yeah, check to make sure you are taking a new, refreshing angle on your topic, so editors will be impressed with your ingenuity even before they actually read any of your finished pieces.

Duh—give me a break.

And a pen.


Mechele R. Dillard is a freelance writer, editor, book reviewer and columnist, working in Cleveland, GA, where she lives with her best friend, Mark, and their two canine sidekicks, Bucky and Bubba. And, in case you are wondering, yes: The rejection scenarios cited are straight from the wealth of examples she has culled since deciding to embrace the writing life in 2003.


Kim Smith said...

Hey Mechele!! Thanks for stopping and taking time out of your busy day to be with us. Rejection is something that all writers understand. I saw a sign today at a local church, that said, "Rejection is God's redirection" that could apply to the writing rejections, too.

Thanks for sharing!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Hi, Mechele! Thanks so much for being a guest today on MB4.

I once read that if you're not receiving a few rejections in the mail every day, you're not submitting your work enough! As we all know, many of the bestsellers endured hundreds of rejections before they found their perfect match publisher.... so, keep on subbing, writers! Don't give up!

Marta Stephens said...

Mechele, I LOVE this article. You are absolutely on the mark. I thoroughly enjoy your sense of humor. :)

To this, I'd like to add that at some point writers need to type the words, "The End."

I can name (I'm sure you can too) at least a handful of writers who are so fearful of rejection that they tweak and rewrite the same story year after year -- constantly changing it to the point that it's no longer the same book they started to write ten years before.

Belief in ourselves and in our work will get us there. Do I dare say it? Oh what the heck, no pain, no gain.

Thanks so much for posting on MB4. Look forward to seeing you here again!