When I fell for Sarah Getlost in the fourth grade, I was taking no chances. My father explained to me that women couldn’t resist a man in uniform. He told me this while wearing a white T-shirt, Bermuda shorts and drinking a beer, so I had to take his word for it. My plan was to wait for our little league candy sale and go to her house dressed in my new baseball uniform.
In theory, it was a good plan.
In reality, Sarah Getlost answered the door wearing her new cheerleader outfit, effectively neutralizing me. So, to impress her, I gave her my candy, a new baseball and all of my money. Although I wasn’t immediately rejected, it came swiftly once my mother found out and forced me to return to Sarah’s house to ask for all my stuff back. I don’t remember exactly what I said, only that it was awkward and involved a lot of gulping to keep the bitter taste of rejection from coming back up.
Although I think all that chalk I swallowed in the second grade helped a little.
Rejection is a part of life, particularly for writers. We set ourselves up for potential rejection every time we send out a query, have an article published online or in print, or post something to our blog or social media page. Thanks to the digital age, we have more ways than ever to receive rejection!
Something else writers have in common is that each of us has to get started the same way: By putting ourselves out there. That means learning how to deal with — and learn from — the “Sara Getlost” moments in our literary world.
I 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.
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 17-word haiku, 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. Rejection letters are as much an indicator of that journey as seeing your work in print. They represent sacrifice, perseverance and the belief you have in yourself as a writer. The fact that you even have those rejections means you have already achieved more than most by having the work to submit in the first place.
So remember that the next time you get a visit from Sara Getlost.
And if you see her, tell her Ned still wants his baseball back…
(This morning, I got great news that Emmy-award winning “Sienfeld” director Tom Cherones will “be happy” to write a testimonial for the jacket of my new book coming out next month. To celebrate, I thought I’d finally post an ACTUAL EXCERPT from Pearls of Writing Wisdom: From 16 shucking years as a columnist, due out Sept. 24 from Port Hole Publishing in both print and eBook. It will also be available at Amazon Books, Barnes and Noble, and probably from the trunk of my car for years to come…)