What a depressing concept, especially for the one being rejected. Believe me, I know. I have a huge stack of rejection slips that I've received from publishers over the years -- including two just this week. Almost all of them are "form letters", too, impersonal correspondence publishers send to each of their rejects, saying things like:
- We are unable to accept your manuscript for publication.
- Your manuscript does not work for us.
- We cannot use your manuscript.
- Not enough plot.
- Too much description.
- Characters are two-dimensional.
Every once in a while I'll receive a form letter with a short handwritten note on it. The last time one of my stories was rejected by Highlights magazine, they sent me the checklist they commonly use. At the top it reads, "We are returning your manuscript because...." The editor placed a check mark next to "It is not suited to our present needs", but then also wrote this note of encouragement beside it, "Please try us again!" Ah, a little ray of hope! Unfortunately, that doesn't happen very often. At least, not to me. I usually am stuck with a generic response.
Still, I prefer receiving a form letter to never hearing anything back. Many publishers now dispense with the rejection letters altogether and only contact writers if they are interested in their work. Yes, it saves me from having to send self-addressed stamped envelopes with my stories. But, when I never hear back from a publisher -- though I have to assume my story was rejected for some unknown reason -- I'm always left with little nagging thoughts in my brain. Did the publisher even receive my manuscript or did it get lost in the mail? Did someone actually read it or did it go right in the trash?
Those questions have been in my head recently. Some of you may remember my post about sending out a new picture book manuscript to several publishers back in June. Every one of those publishers announced on their websites that they no longer use rejection letters, and that writers will only hear back from them if the publishers are interested in their manuscripts. Most of the publishers that I mailed my story to said in their submission guidelines that writers would hear back in six months or less. (Or not at all.) Well, it's almost been six months now, and I have heard zip. Nada. Nothing.
It's easy to feel discouraged and disappointed, to start doubting oneself. Maybe that story I was so excited about wasn't really all that great. Maybe that poem that struck a chord within me just seems tired or hackneyed to everyone else. Maybe I wasn't cut out to be a writer.
Then again, I tell myself, look at all the now-famous authors whose manuscripts were rejected over and over and over again when they were first starting out. Many of my favorite writers were rejected by publishers multiple times before someone, somewhere, gave them a break -- Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Madeline L'Engle, e.e. cummings, and Dr. Seuss, just to name a few. Imagine if those writers had given up, if they'd kept their words -- their stories and poems -- to themselves. I'm so glad they didn't!
Knowing that famous authors have been in my shoes fills me with hope. Maybe someday I'll get a big break. Maybe someday one of my books will be published. Maybe someday my dream will come true.
That's why I won't let myself give up. Whenever yet another rejection letter arrives in the mail, or I never hear anything back from a publisher, sure, it hurts. But after allowing myself to pout a little, I pick myself up, dust myself off, and then climb back up on that dream of mine. I re-read my rejected manuscript and try to decide whether or not it can be improved. (Usually, it can.) I revise it, if needed, and send it on to another publisher. Then I start working on something new. A new story. A new poem. A new chapter in my novel. A new blog post. What I work on doesn't really matter. The important thing is to just keep writing.