Mary Rosenblum, the Long Ridge Web Editor and published author in multiple genres has collected and continues to collect rejection slips, even after dozens of sales. (You can see my Publication List if you want an accurate count).
Soliciting Rejection Slips
(or, Why You Really Need to Acquire at Least 100)
By Mary Rosenblum
Rejection slips. A sign of failure. You weren’t good enough. Your story sucked. That magazine editor doesn’t want any article you write…. Isn’t that how you think? It’s sure what I thought when I was first starting out in writing. You stared at that awful, cold, printed form, and maybe you told your writer friends about it, but it was easier not to, just bury it in a file or throw it away and pretend it didn’t happen. I blew it. Maybe I can’t do this….
No, No, No!!! You got it all wrong!
You’ve got it backwards. You want those rejection slips. You need to keep track of them, like you’d keep track of money put aside for that vacation, or the new dress, or barbecue grill you’d like to buy but don’t have the money for yet. You have to earn that first sale. Sometimes that happens quickly, sometimes it happens later, but when it happens, you will not automatically sell everything you send out. That first sale has not bought you an ID card that says YOU MUST BUY MY STUFF. Sorry. It means you have sold one story. You have to keep collecting those rejection slips and working toward that goal. You will collect rejection slips for your entire career….just not as often, don’t worry.
If your goal is to simply see your name in print, then that first sale pretty much wraps it up. If your goal is to establish a career as a writer, then you’re going to have to buckle down and earn those hundred (or more) rejection slips. Every one you earn is one more step toward your goal. Why? Well let’s look at what that rejection means. It means you submitted something and an editor looked at it. The editor read your query or your story. Pretty good. Not quite what I want…needs a little improvement…but the writer is serious, I’ve seen three things from her in the last six months. Hmmm… I’ll keep an eye on her. See if she keeps improving…
Of course, none of this shows up in that cold, unpleasant, Doesn’t suit our needs at this time rejection. But that’s what happens behind the scenes. Endurance is one of the qualities editors want to see in their writers. They don’t want one piece from you. If it’s a fiction story, who’s going to buy the magazine because your name is in it? Your mother. You have to build a name in order to sell magazines for that editor and how do you do that? You write lots of stories. So the editor wants to know if you’re a stayer. Will you keep sending work in, even when he doesn’t buy it? Well, you might be worth the risk of buying that first story and displacing a writer who does have a name that will sell issues.
Are you sending in regular queries that fit the magazine? Well, so far, those topics have been covered by pros that the editor has worked with before, but you’re writing well and you’re stubborn. If you come up with a new twist, the editor might give you a try. See if you’re as easy to work with and reliable as her other regular contributors. You’ve proved that you’re willing to contribute regularly and you can think up new article topics. She needs writers who can turn out pieces reliably for those twelve or fifty two issues a year! Regular contributions matter.
Again, none of these behind-the-scenes processes show up on those icy forms. However, that’s what is going on. Believe me, long before you make your first sale, several editors will know your name and they will perhaps talk about you to other editors when they get together. It’s a small universe, publishing. Everybody talks to everybody else.
How to End Your Career
Of course, if you read each rejection slip as never darken my door again you’ll run through all your prospective markets quite quickly. Then what do you do? Stop sending your work out? Bitterly tell yourself that you don’t have what it takes to be a writer? Make cynical comments about the ‘closed shop’ of the writing world at cocktail parties? Go sob into your pillow and never write again?
Just Do It
To borrow Nike’s famous slogan…just do it. Start collecting them. Yeah, rejection slips. You need to. So keep track. Buy an inexpensive photo album next time you see one on sale, and past those rejections into it. Decorate as desired. That’s your proof to yourself that you are a writer. You don’t have to sell to be a writer. You have to be seriously trying to sell. (And guess what? That’s the IRS’s definition of ‘writer’, too, by the way. In case you’re doing your taxes.) In both chases, those rejection slips are proof positive that you are a writer. Great stories on your hard drive or in the file drawer do not make you a writer. Rejection slips make you a writer.
So get busy. Start working on that first hundred. What are you waiting for?
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