Thankfully, my novel has been getting good feedback.
Really good feedback.
But I got a rejection email this week.
Okay, I’m being dramatic. But that’s how it feels sometimes.
Nobody likes rejection.
And yet in the writing world, you are told, again and again, how getting rejected brings you one step closer to publication.
In On Writing, Stephen King says, “The nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and kept on writing.”
Click on this link to see a list of best sellers rejected numerous times before they made it.
It is unbelievable to think that Gone With The Wind was rejected 38 times before being accepted. The novel went on to sell 30 million copies.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling received 12 rejections in a row before being accepted. The Harry Potter series set records as the fastest-selling books in history with combined sales of 450 million.
And more recently, The Help was rejected 60 times before getting published. It has become a worldwide best-seller.
It’s always tough when a rejection letter arrives but there is something to be learned: a building of muscle, gained knowledge, a repertoire of experiences that brings you, little by little, closer to publication.
This is my favorite personal rejection story. I refer back to it when I feel discouraged.
As recently as five years ago, short stories were submitted for publication to literary journals by “snail mail”, a term referring to mail delivered by the U.S. postal service.
In my Brooklyn home, there is a mail slot in the front door and every Saturday the mail is delivered at the same time, which coincides with when my family eats lunch.
When the flap on the mail slot hits the frame, it makes a loud clang. For years, every time I heard the sound, I jumped up from my seat at the table and ran to the door to retrieve the mail, hoping I’d get an acceptance letter for any of the number of short stories I’d submitted.
More often than not, I found rejection letters, which is not uncommon in the literary world. Sometimes the rejection is standardized, and on sliver of paper no thicker than a pen, and sometimes there is a note, cordial and encouraging, but nonetheless, a rejection.
Now and then, there was an acceptance letter and that intermittent reinforcement, just like a win at the slot machine, kept me hooked. And so today, even though correspondence with literary journals happens through email, when the mail slot clangs against its frame, I have to stop myself, a Pavlovian response, from running to the door.
The craving for feedback from editors and the desire for publication is intense. And so one summer when we moved to New Jersey, and had our mail forwarded, it was quite distressing when all of it was lost, and I didn’t receive a single piece of mail for over six weeks.
I worried that my dreams of publication would go unrealized if my response letters were gone for good. All that hard work: the writing and editing of the story, targeting appropriate journals, preparing cover letters and stuffing envelopes- all of it- a waste of time.
When the mail was finally found, my husband picked it from the post office. He brought it home in a black trash bag, the mail filling the bag like fallen leaves.
I set the bag on the kitchen counter and separated the bills, newsletters and invitations from the self addressed stamped envelopes that I’d sent to editors around the country.
I opened the letters, hopeful.
Note that it was unusual to receive all these responses at once but because of the mail mishap, I got this particular view.
In response to a specific short story, I got three replies, and I lined them on the counter next to one another.
1. A standard rejection letter.
2. A note saying my short story had potential and that if I was willing to do significant revisions, I could re-submit the story.
3. An acceptance letter.
One story. Three points of view.