How Can A Writer Handle Rejection?

January 3, 2011

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A few weeks ago, my writing was rejected.  I had submitted a manuscript to the Iowa Short Fiction Awards and was notified that I was not among the finalists (there were more than 400 entries).  Mountains, Meadows, and Chasms had been rejected.  The 63 stories, encompassing more than 70,000 words, had taken countless hours to write edit.  One of the stories (The Cell Window) by itself had taken nearly six weeks to write.  Sales of my eBooks at the Hyrax Publications store have been lackluster, but there was still the chance for critical acclaim, right?  Now, too, that hope was dashed.

This was actually a bit of a new experience for me.  In my years as a writer, I have generally had good luck when submitting stories and articles to publications and sites.  Almost without fail, I have managed to find a home for every piece of writing.  Now, someone was telling me that my writing wasn’t good enough.

How do I – and other writers – handle this rejection?

First, realize that much of the joy is in the journey itself, rather than the destination.  For many writers, the process is cathartic.  If there is value in the writing process itself, then you don’t necessarily need commercial or critical success in order to “win”.  It would be great if people like your work, but it’s just frosting on the cake.

Next, take a closer look at your goals.  Do you need to have your work praised by experts?  Do you strive to place your books at the top of the best seller lists?  Or perhaps you want to make a small difference, one life at a time.  Several months ago, I wrote a little story called Safe at Home.  Like many of my stories, it’s a sports story – but with a big sentimental tug at the end.  I shared it with a friend of mine.  This short little story that took only a few minutes to read jerked heavily at his heartstrings.  Mission accomplished.

Look also at your audience.  Perhaps you’re submitting things to publishers that simply “don’t get you”.  Very few people strike a chord with everyone.  Regardless of how good your writing is, you’re going to strike out occasionally.  Try a different publisher – or even sit on the work for a year or so.  A writing style that is unpopular today may be all the rage in the future.

Finally, think of your writing as your legacy.  Writing is something that can be passed down from generation to generation.  A hundred years from now, if my descendents wonder what sort of person I was, they’ll be able to read my stories to gain some insight.  Of course, they may come away from the experience thinking that I am a serial killer, what is most untrue.  (I devour Lucky Charms, but am generally pretty nice to cereal).

On that note, The Crunchy Conservative uncovered some journals that her grandfather wrote at the beginning of the 2oth century.  His words will jump onto the information superhighway this year.  Crunchy will be posting each day’s 1902 entry on the corresponding date in 2011.  Already this year there is information about a funeral and the unpleasant task of dehorning cattle.  Check it out at

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Evan @40Tech
    Jan 04, 2011 @ 15:25:46

    I applaud you for you efforts, Kosmo. The quality of your writing makes me think that the writing industry is much like the music industry, where there are many unknown bands who are better than the bands who “made it” on the big labels. The music industry is just a fickle thing, with much luck involved.


  2. Martin Kelly
    Jan 07, 2011 @ 09:44:26

    Kos, Evan is right. You have a forum and an audience. As word spreads, you will get more attention. If you are selling and getting regular support on line, contests like the Iowa Short Fiction Awards will start taking notice. It seems to be a the method, like when an actor or actress finally gets an Oscar nomination for a realy poor performance after a long career of great performances that were ignored.


  3. kosmo
    Jan 08, 2011 @ 23:22:45

    Thanks, guys. In actuality, I think my technique needs a bit more refinement … but you’re certainly correct that there are hidden gems out there that don’t get as much attention. I’ve recently been reading some legal thrillers by Phillip Margolin. Margolin isn’t exactly an anonymous writer, but neither does he have the fame and following of John Grisham – and I think he’d every bit the writer that Grisham is (and I love most of Grisham’s books).


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