If you’re a writer without a rejection letter, you’re doing something wrong

image Do you hear that? Shhhhh! Listen again…

That’s right — NOTHING! Now that my flu is almost gone, I no longer sound like a partially submerged Ford Fiesta backfiring in a swamp! At least not when I cough.

I’d like to apologize again for last week’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing, which was a good example of why some people shouldn’t be allowed near a keyboard while under medication. For those who missed it, I think it’s best summed up in this comment left by The Master of Horror® Stephen King:

Ned. You’re even scaring me with this sh@%. Stop it.”
— The Master of Horror® Stephen King

With that, it’s time for an influenza-free edition of my NWOW, which Editor’s Weekly recently called “…something that has become an integral part of our screening process whenever we hire a proof reader.”

High prays in deed.

But enough accolades! Let’s get to this week’s NWOW, which I’d like to open by sharing a few passages from the many rejection letters I’ve received over the years:

“You are a gifted wordsmith. Try somewhere else.”
(Were they saying I was overqualified?)

“We don’t publish new authors.”
(If all publishing houses felt that way, there wouldn’t be any new material since The Book of Genesis)

“We were close to accepting your submission but decided to pass. Good luck.”
(That made me feel so much better. Like that time I got that HILARIOUS winning lottery ticket that was fake.)

“Very good. Keep trying.”
(With what? Better stationary?)

“As Mr. Hefner’s attorney, I’ve been asked to order you to stop writing the girls. You’re only 14 and it’s creepy.”
(Oops! Wrong kind of rejection letter.)

I could go on and on with rejection letters, but it won’t change the fact that, even at age 14, I had a certain level of maturity which I think the Bunnies could recognize and…

I did it again, didn’t I? Sorry! Where was I?

Oh yeah: rejection.

I really do have a cabinet drawer at work full of rejection letters from newspaper editors and publishing houses. Many are for my column when I was first starting out. Others are in response to a murder mystery I wrote back in the late 1990s.

Here is my collection of rejection letter, which my "thumbs down" is pointing to.
Here is my collection of rejection letter, which my “thumbs down” is pointing to.
And one is from Miss October 1978.

In spite of the negative connotation a rejection letter conjures up in the mind of most authors — fine, every author — don’t overlook the more important aspects of what it represents.

To begin with, it means you’ve completed a written work. Given a choice between writing a 500-word essay or being tased in the buttocks, the average person would rather drop their pants than pick up a pen. The fact that you aren’t rubbing a bruised rear means you are a writer (Depending on your genre, of course). No number of rejection letters changes that. Regardless of whether its a 400-page novel or an 800-word opinion piece, you have honed and polished your words to the point you are ready to send it out to the world, either in the form of sample chapters, a query, or by pushing the “publish” button on your blog or website. And make no mistake: The “comments” section on your social media site is just another form of “acceptance” or “rejection” notices.

It’s also important to remember that actually receiving a rejection letter, by email or otherwise, means an editor or publisher thought enough of your work to take the time to respond. Even if it’s a letter saying “No thanks, we’ve already committed to publishing a book on Hobbit erotica, but keep shopping this around,” it says something about your writing ability. And maybe the need for professional help — and I don’t mean from an agent. Bottom line: Most editors and publishers are like us, overworked and understaffed. Sending a letter or email takes time and effort. It’s more than just a rejection; it’s also a compliment.

Occasionally, you may even receive some suggestions or advice in your rejection letter, such as “Blowing up the world and having everyone die at the end seemed excessive. I’d suggest finding a more satisfying end to your children’s book.” Keep in mind that I’m not saying you have to agree with any suggestions you’re given. Hey, it’s your novel, short story or magazine article, and you will always reserve the right to have the final word on how it appears in print. I’m just pointing out that if an editor or publisher was engaged enough in your submission to offer some insight, it’s quite a compliment. On that same note, if you keep receiving the same suggestion from different publishers, be willing to at least consider the idea of having “Sally” and “Stubs the Legless Gopher” steal a rocket and depart from Earth before it is reduced to space dust.

Lastly, don’t discard your rejection letters. Keep them somewhere safe as a reminder of your commitment as a writer — and eventually as testimony to what it took to get to where you are. As a father, I’ve shown all my kids my rejection file at some point. When they didn’t make the team; when they were turned down for the dance; when they didn’t get the grade they expected; after I’ve had too much to drink and go on a crying jag about why my mystery novel still hasn’t been published…

You get the idea. We’ve all heard the saying about how you can’t get to where you’re going unless you know where you came from. Or maybe I just made that up. Regardless, rejection letters are as much an indicator of that journey as seeing your work in print. It means you have sacrificed, persevered and believed in yourself. Possibly even threatened to run over an editor or two.

You know, on second thought, I might get rid of those letters. Just in case.

(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

52 thoughts on “If you’re a writer without a rejection letter, you’re doing something wrong”

          1. There’d be fewer writers submitting sub-par works each and every year, that’s for sure. Ooh, I should send my queries on asbestos paper!

  1. Wow, Hefner’s attorney has no sense of humor. But Hobbit erotica ? Hm.
    Great advice though ! (I once read that Stephen King was rejected by tons of short-sighted publishers – a case of “its not you, its me” I guess.)

  2. I’d much prefer a rejection letter than total silence. I’ve received two “no news is bad news” rejection letters this month, and I only know I’m rejected because they were to let the writers of selected stories know by today and I know nothing, which is everything in this case.

    1. I know that feeling, and it stinks. If it’s any consolation, if anything I’ve read of yours ever came across my desk as a publisher, I’d fire off an acceptance letter to you in a heartbeat. Unless it was Hobbit erotica, although I know it would still be well-written… 😉

      Keep the faith, Melanie. You’re a damned good writer. And you know I mean it because I don’t use curse very often.

      1. You made me smile. Thank you Ned. That’s a top-notch compliment you just gave me.
        I do really hate the nothing rejections. At least with a letter I can file it and resubmit the piece, after I find the typo that surely caused the rejection. With nothing, I get all anxious that something will be double-accepted if I resubmit elsewhere. Ever the optimist I guess.

  3. Now that I’m working on a piece of fiction, maybe I should pull out all those old short-story rejection letters that led to a life of non-fiction. Thanks for reminding me I suck, Ned!

  4. Eloquent and helpful post, although I do miss the blowback snot sounds. Admittedly, I only have one rejection letter sitting in a file. It sits there with about 20 never submitted stories. You hit the nail on the head–at least a rejection letter means you’ve put yourself out there (playboy bunnies not withstanding) and there’s a lot to be said about being brave enough to do that. I’m in! Thanks Ned!

  5. who would choose getting tased over a 500 word essay? that’s easy… almost too easy… I’d be suspicious of someone only wanting a 500 word easy… anyway… as a self-published author I don’t really have to worry about rejection letters… but I do fear that inevitable bad review… then again I’ve written on my blog that if you do give me such please explain to me what was so bad with my book so that I can do better in the future… because criticism is a good way of knowing where your weaknesses are so that you can make yourself even better than you were… then again I’ve been told I can be rather blunt and apparently need to soften some of my blows to other people’s writing… especially some folks that turned out to be freshman and were devastated because I told them their characters sounded petty and unrealistic… and my militaristic style of breaking people down to build them back up is not a widely accepted policy… go figure…

    1. It goes without saying that being a writer requires thick skin. And some body armor. I do believe that if you’re going to publicly critique a piece — positive or negative — you have a responsibility to explain yourself and offer legitimate examples supporting your point of view. “It’s great!” isn’t good enough, and neither is “My cat peed on it.”

      I want to know why.

      I also want to find that cat…

      1. I know… what’s worse is when people just do the star thing… and don’t write an actual review of any kind… that means absolutely nothing… you might as well have just left it alone… because what might have bothered you about a book may be something that doesn’t bother me… and what you might have loved about a book may very well be something that turns me off… it can be frustrating…

  6. Thanks for this Ned, really. And that’s an interesting point about actually receiving a rejection letter/email. As the very first one I received really did feel like the agent wanted me to stay away from my laptop for the rest of my life. You’ve managed to turn that email into a positive… Albeit a very, bloody small one.

    PS – Any update on your ebook?

    1. Really glad I could put a positive spin on it for you, Sean, however small 😉

      No word yet, but I’m pushing for it. When it happens, I’ll let folks know. Thanks for asking!

  7. Thanks Ned. I’ve printed mine out now so I can keep it safely stored away for later use…. as anything really!
    Although in their defense, they tell me to keep working on my manuscript and ideas. 🙂
    Oh, and I’m still attempting to get the cheetos stains out of the couch!

  8. Ha! I’ll take rejection by editor any day over a crushing no from boys. Hmmm, might have to count up the check yes, no, or maybe notes from each side to see which actually has the highest number. Sigh. 😀

  9. Wow, that was both inspiring AND I learned there is such a thing as Hobbit erotica…Knowing the second will prevent me from sleeping for the next few days, allowing me ample time to work on my writing. Thanks!

  10. I’m just going to bypass the rejection letters and go straight to never writing a book and still feeling rejected, and drink heavily because of it. Your column is in the paper I read in S. Dakota by the way. It’s okay, I guess. Ha ha, just kidding–it’s quite entertaining.

    1. I noticed how you mentioned my column runs in your paper right after the part about drinking heavily. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

      By the way, I thought your bio was hilarious. So was your piece about wondering if anyone is reading your blog thanks to WP’s new window. And your sister sounds like she was a very special person. Even if her brother looks like a gay serial killer in his Gravitar… 😉

      All joking aside, thanks for reading.

  11. The surest way to avoid rejection letters is to avoid sending your work to publications.

    There is something to be said for that – which is why I blog.

    I have never been rejected when clicking the submit button. Well.. maybe a few times, But blogging is a great way for writers to test drive their skills and learn what it is like to write for others rather than themselves

    Having said that, there comes a time when every writer needs to step out of the nest and crash through the branches until they smack beak-first into the rocks – but hey, it is safe and cozy here in the blog nest and maybe some day, a few of us might take the leap.

  12. perhaps wallpaper your dog’s house with them, though you don’t want to pass on any bad karma. glad you are better, and we readers are quite good about not judging fever posts.

No one is watching, I swear...

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