Between novels, short stories, and, now, a mini-documentary, I find myself submitting to agents, journals, and festivals almost continuously. This means that rejection is my constant companion. And it can be pretty hard to handle.

When I’m faced with a barrage of emails that say, “Not for us,” or “No thanks,” it’s vital that I keep a level head. Especially because rejection has several meanings, which I think tend to fall into one of the following categories:

  • Insufficient Quality
  • Excessive Quantity
  • Lack of Compatibility
  • Extreme Exclusivity

Admittedly, insufficient quality is a depressing reason to be rejected, but it’s not the most frustrating. If the work isn’t of a high enough quality, it can be improved, so there’s hope. All that’s necessary is more work. Sometimes years of work.

When it comes to issues of quantity, we can find that our work has been edged out by similar writing or a piece that has been written by someone of higher stature. In other words, the market is flooded.

If work is sent to an agent or journal (or any other entity calling for entries) and it’s rejected, it could be because of contradicting visions. There’s no compatibility in this situation. Sometimes it can be fixed, but often first impressions take precedence.

Exclusivity may be the worse reason for a rejection, especially if our work is of sufficient quality. This kind of pass could be the result of who we don’t know. An example of exclusivity could be an agency that doesn’t take on new writers.

Anytime rejection is encountered, we have to keep pushing ourselves and our work forward. Rejection is not an invitation to give up. However, it is an invitation to be honest with ourselves. Remember the first category. Is it a lack of quality? If it is, then it’s time to go back to the drawing board and try again.

If it’s not, we should seek acceptance elsewhere or… try again. However, we should also exercise caution. It’s possible to start believing that the quality of our work is inadequate when it isn’t. Find someone to evaluate the work objectively. If it holds up, look to some of the other reasons for a no.

If you can’t place the piece elsewhere, then move on. This might sound radical, but try not to get too attached to a particular work, especially if it’s going to hinder what comes along next. Another project or opportunity may offer greater possibilities for success.

photo: Steve Johnson