It’s something we all face, and it never gets easier. Unless you have the clout of a Stephen King or JK Rowling, you will get rejected. That story you think is brilliant, which you’ve revised so it shines, which everybody tells you is magnificent, is no guarantee of immediately finding a home.
That’s writing – and publishing. It’s a subjective business. Think about a classic: The Great Gatsby is considered one of literature’s greatest novels, but I know people who hate it. Who were bored senseless by it. That doesn’t mean Gatsby is a bad book; nor are those people are wrong. Simply, tastes vary.
Other factors also come into play. Have you correctly targeted your market? You might’ve written a witty satire unfolding as a political drama, yet submit it to a journal who’s interested only in genre fiction. It’s not a great fit, and not one that you should expect to be made.
Or you might’ve written an awesome story about killer robots who take over the world, but have submitted it to a journal who’ve just accepted a story about killer robots who take over the world. If that’s the case, your rejection mightn’t necessarily be based on quality, but on content specifications, i.e. they don’t want two of the same stories.
Similarly, there might be a focus on a certain length. Your 4000-word story on mutant daffodils that rampage and eat a town might be considered fantastic, yet unusable for a journal that has only space remaining for a 2500-word piece. These things do happen.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t make dealing with rejection easier. You can tell yourself the right things – that your piece wasn’t for this particular market, that possibly they didn’t ‘get it’, that they’re all big buttheads – but your ego’s going to take a bruising regardless. That’s human nature.
You could also start questioning yourself. Most journals (and publishers) only provide form rejections, as they simply don’t have the time to personalise responses to everybody submitting to them. (We know, we tried!) So you’ll never know why you were rejected. You’re left with the uncertainty, with the questioning, with an array of possibilities.
And that’s the difficult bit. Writing is very personal. You invest yourself in your work. When your work is rejected, it can be like you yourself are rejected. It’s hard dealing with the uncertainty of why it occurred. The question becomes how you deal with it.
You can take rejection as a sign that your story needs more work. Be candid. Was the story you submitted the best it could be? Were you impatient? Did you just want to get it out there? Or because you were trying to meet a submission deadline? Take another look at it. Or get some feedback from people who can offer you a frank appraisal.
Did you meet their submission guidelines? Yes, sounds stupid. But journals/publishers can get hundreds, if not thousands of submissions monthly. You know one of their quickest, easiest reasons for rejection? Because somebody ignored their submission guidelines. If you’re not going to show them the respect and consideration they expect, then they certainly won’t show it towards you. Make sure you observe guidelines. Don’t assume you’ll awe your market to the extent that they’ll ignore any indiscretions.
Otherwise, if you’re confident your story’s not going to get any better, that it’s formatted correctly, plough onwards. Find another market. Prepare your story (according to their submission guidelines) and send it away. I’ve noticed a lot more markets (particularly US markets) are becoming more and more amenable to multiple submissions, (meaning they don’t mind if you’re sending them a story under consideration elsewhere), so there are always alternatives.
The point is move forward. Rejection hurts, yes. Absorb the blow. Feel sorry for yourself for a time, if that’s going to help you get over it. But do get over it, because it’s all part of the process. And submit again.
You’re a writer, after all. Submitting’s what you need to do.