First of all, I changed the name of my file where I store my rejections, to “returned.” I know I’m only fooling myself, but I choose not to live as rejected. (Dejected, maybe, but not rejected…)
Second, I look the returned piece over (whether it is a poem, short story, or essay) and then do more research on where I might send it next. By this point I feel as confident as I will ever feel that it is good piece of writing, or I wouldn’t be sending it out. I have been writing and publishing long enough that I think I have a sense now of when something is good.
I don’t really spend that much time sending work out, because most of my writing time is spent actually writing. Or reading, or researching, or attending author events, or tweeting, or writing blog pieces. However, every couple of weeks I set aside a day, or a big chunk of a day, to do what I call a “blitz.” Wherein I do a major perusal of my unpublished work, and try to find a home for it by researching potential publications.
Many of my essays were published by the first places I sent them to, because I had developed relationships, over years of writing, with op/ed page editors. Or I had a regular gig as a columnist. Or I just hit the right chord with the right editor.
It’s hard not to give up on a piece that you love and have faith in, and I’m not sure how you know when to stick a fork in it. I have had several stories and essays that have been rejected (“returned”) after at least twenty or thirty tries. For real! I think you have to keep your faith in your work, or you just couldn’t do this for too many years.
If you want to read a humor piece that appeared in The Writer magazine (“Thoughts on Rejection in the Middle of the Night”) go to my posting on Jan. 17th, or go to the category “Writing” where you will find other essays I have published about writing and publishing.
Here is a note I got years ago from an editor at The New Yorker (when I once had the nerve/guts to send them a short story). In writer pep talks, they always say that a handwritten personal note means something. I still haven’t figured out what…