Coping with literary rejection

Photo by Matt Jones on Unsplash

Whenever I received a rejection letter for a short story I’ve submitted to a magazine or literary journal I have had this fantasy.

After receiving theirs — “Thank you for your submission. We are sorry that it does not meet our editorial needs at this time.” — I would send back one of my own boilerplate replies:

“Thank you for your rejection. I’m sorry that it does not defeat my literary dreams at this time.”

Over the years, I’ve been a student of rejection, having experienced my share over the years. Pitches repulsed. Stories that never found a home. Books that didn’t sell. So I’ve taken perverse pleasure learning from this list of the “Most Rejected Books of All Time (Of the Ones That Were Eventually Published)” that even famous and best-selling authors heard no — over and over.

But in “Why You Should Aim for 100 Rejections a Year,” Kim Liao goes beyond the numbers to capture the paradox of the writer’s life.

“Yes, we should be unswerving in our missions to put passion down on paper, unearthing our deepest secrets and most beautiful bits of humanity. But then, later, each of us must step back from those raw pieces of ourselves and critically assess, revise, and—brace yourself—sell them to the hungry and unsympathetic public. This latter process is not only excruciating for most of us (hell, if we were good at sales we would be making good money working in sales), but it can poison that earlier, unselfconscious creative act of composition.”

Liao, an essayist and fiction writer, recounts how her experience with rejection and the advice of a friend led her to shoot for 100 rejections a year. 

By actively seeking rejections, her perspective has changed in a way that should help anyone wrestling with the pain of turndowns of their work. 

“Now, I see rejection as a conversation: for every piece that is rejected, at least one other person read it, thought about it, and really considered whether it would be a good fit for publication. What’s more, it’s a conversation between two minds that truly love literature, as the financial margins of journals and small presses are slimmer than the sheaf of pages that I carry with me each day to revise before going to my day job.

It’s a witty and wise essay.

It should take the sting out of your next rejection and prompt you to send your story out in the world once more hoping for the joy of acceptance, or, at the very least, the muted pleasure of an encouraging rejection letter.

May the writing go well!

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