(Originally published in The Writer magazine.)
Whenever I teach a writing class I bring along a few samples of rejection letters I have received over my years of freelancing. I don’t do this to scare my students – rather, seeing a real rejection letter sort of demystifies the process for them. After all if I (their teacher, a published author) can receive rejection letters and survive, then maybe it’s not so bad after all. Maybe they can risk getting one as well. At least that is what I focus on when I’m in the classroom with them. At night, however, when I’m up pecking away at my computer on some story that I’m not sure will ever go anywhere except in a manila folder, I have other thoughts about rejection. Thoughts that are not so positive…
…Myth: Rejection can make you a better person. Truth: Rejection can make you cry, yell at your kids, and refuse to cook dinner that night.
…Just because your novel/script/article was rejected for the twenty-third time, it’s not your mailman’s fault, so don’t glare at him when he shows up at your door. In fact, he probably deserves a nice bonus at the holidays for carrying all of those large manila envelopes to and from your house.
…Favorite saying #1 (staring at a rejection letter), “I didn’t really want to sell to them anyway.”
…Favorite saying #2, “They’ll be sorry when I’m famous.”
…Don’t ever let all your hopes hinge on one big project, because if and when rejection comes, it will cause major depression, which could lead to eating several pints of Haagen- Dazs ice cream, which will make you fat, which will lead to worse depression.
…I have a special place in my heart for favorable or personal rejections, even when they are written on a form letter and the signature is stamped.
…If you are what you write, but you aren’t supposed to take rejection personally, then does 2 + 2 really equal 4? And what is the meaning of the universe?
…Don’t ever expect to get proper sympathy from a spouse or significant other, unless he or she is also a struggling writer, artist, or actor.
…Just remember – for every 486 rejections, you are bound, by the law of averages to have one acceptance. Maybe.
…The most fun you can have as a writer is commiserating with other rejectees, complaining about how hard the writing/acting/artistic life is. Misery loves company.
…Worst rejection I ever had: “And please don’t send us any more scripts – your style isn’t similar to ours, we’re developing a different story line, and changing our address.” (Serious thoughts about tearing up my Oscar acceptance speech.)
…Best rejection: “We love you, and are certain you are the next Faulkner, as evidenced by the enclosed masterpiece. But alas, we are already working on a similar idea with Joyce Carol Oates, whom we feel will do a slightly better job. Please feel free, however, to send us everything else you have ever written.”
…Never look for hidden nuances in a rejection letter. A no is a no, and cannot be analyzed any further. Spending fruitless hours trying to determine by mental telepathy an editor’s reasons for saying no is dangerous to one’s mental health.
…After receiving a crucial rejection, call your mother and let her tell you how she thinks you are the best writer in the United States, and also the entire world and universe.
…Remember Benjamin Franklin once said, “One man’s rejection is another man’s acceptance check.” (Okay, so he really didn’t say that, but he should have.)
…Definition of Mass Rejection – When you return from vacation and you receive eighteen rejected manuscripts and queries. Serious thoughts about enrolling in plumbing school.
…Try to make yourself feel better when magazines print photos of contest winners of contests that you have entered (and lost). As in, “Well he/she may have won, but he/she is ugly/fat, has zits/a big nose.” Whatever makes you feel better.
…Most frustrating quote to read in an interview with a famous actor/producer/editor: “I am dying for a good story idea/script/novel. All the manuscripts we read are garbage.” (Then why is it impossible to get your brilliant idea to that person?)
…It might make you feel somewhat better to use your rejection slips in your kitty litter box instead of old newspaper.
…Latest self-therapy for the rejected and dejected: Spend an hour or so in the middle of the night, after receiving a particularly critical rejection, and write down your thoughts about rejection.
…Best saying about rejection (Anais Nin): “Beware of allowing a tactless word, a rebuttal, a rejection to obliterate the whole sky.”
Many examples of famous rejections are reported in the wonderful book The Literary Life and Other Curiosities, by Robert Hendrickson. My favorite is the editor who rejected Madame Bovary, advising Flaubert, “You have buried your novel under a heap of details which are well done but utterly superfluous.”
I wonder how Flaubert coped with that…