Handling Rejection

Rejection is never far away from a working author.

Some of the major speculative fiction (that’s industry terminology for science fiction, fantasy, or horror.  All three also collectively known as ‘genre fiction’) markets for short stories have acceptance rates of below 1%.  They have to.  They get on the order of 1,000 submissions a month, and publish on the order of half a dozen.

Not to mention how many people there are trying to sell the novel they just wrote.  If every novel written in the past five years had actually been sold to publishers, I think the planet might have imploded into a black hole under the weight of all of the paper.  

Rejection is part and parcel of being an author.  It’s competitive.  You have to be prepared to be rejected.  But that doesn’t mean you have to like it.

I like to think I’m a guy that takes rejection well.

In high school, I once asked out a certain young lady, and rather than saying, “Yes!,” or even, “I’ve got nothing better to do, I guess so,” both of which would have had me dancing victory laps back and forth across suburban New Jersey, she declined.  She could have said, “I’m not really interested, but thanks for asking,” or even just, “No, Matt.  Just, no.”  I wouldn’t have liked it, but since I’m a guy that handles rejection well, I would have shouldered on.  (Instead, in what I can only assume was an ill advised ad hoc attempt to spare my feelings, she said something to the effect of, “I was in Israel last year, and I met a boy on a train and we fell in love, and I promised myself to him.  And it wouldn’t be fair to you to go on a date with you, knowing I’ll only ever be with him.”)

I got off the phone with her as politely as I could, blinked at the wall a few times in confusion as to what exactly just happened, and went about the rest of my evening, utimately no worse for the wear.

I have also dealt with rejection in other areas than romance.  Take college, for example.  Around 8 years old, I developed a fascination with M.I.T., the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and vowed that I would attend there, and that was that.  (There was a special on the nightly news about students building LEGO robots to compete in contests, for a grade.  Duh, of course I was going to go there.) So, when time came to apply to colleges, I applied there (and if I had had my way – only there.)  Thankfully, my mother had some sense in her head, even if I didn’t, and she forced me to apply to other schools as well.  Anyway, I got my rejection from M.I.T. in due course.  My mother valiantly refrained from any hint of an ‘I told you so,’ and asked me what I planned to do.  Well, I couldn’t go to M.I.T., so I sat at my piano, told her I would go to my second choice, if they would have me, and then pounded out my rejection via the works of Beethoven and Tori Amos for an hour.  And then I was fine.  Ever since that day, it’s just been an amusing anecdote.

See?  I am a guy that takes rejection well.

And now, I am trying to deal with an entirely different form of rejection.

The story that I entered into a contest, and have been waiting in suspense for a decision on, has been rejected.  In the last week – not once, not twice, but three times.

Submitting the story is not the goal.  Getting published is the goal.  You always have to keep that in mind.  So, when you have a story that you know is ready, you send it.  And if one market rejects it, then you just have to turn around and send it right back out the door to a different one.  That’s the gig.  That’s what being a writer is.  It’s getting off the phone with one teenage girl who doesn’t want to date you, and calling a new one immediately after that, and then another one, and another, until one says yes.  (Metaphorically speaking.  I haven’t been calling teenage girls, not for over twenty years, I promise Chris Hansen.)

So that’s what I did.  When my story didn’t win the contest, I went to the next market on my list, and I sent it out again that very day.

The next day I had a rejection.  So, I sent it out again the next day to a third market.  And the next day, I had a rejection.

I’ve got to tell you though.  I’m not Superman.  I have a heart.  It hurts.  It feels like I poured every ounce of my heart and personality and essence and love into a vase, and gently offered it up to a blithe and uncaring toddler, who knocked it mindlessly off a table to shatter irrevocably into a jumble of fractured bleeding stumps of pain, and then took off his diaper and smeared it on them, laughing.  Yeah, it hurts.  But I’ll be OK.  And I’m not crying.  See?  No tear stains on the monitor you’re reading this on.  I’m OK.  And now I’m going to just go back to submitting it again, until it’s published.  Because I am an author.

So, folks, pop some popcorn and pull up a chair, because this might take a while.  I’m just going to keep submitting it until it gets published.

Because I am a guy that takes rejection well.

Here I Go…


About Matthew Shean

Matthew Shean is the author of several forthcoming novels and myriad short stories. He received his Ph.D. from the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences in New York, NY, and spent 20 years as a research scientist throughout the northeastern United States. He now lives in Long Island (against his will), with his loving family and disdainful cats.
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1 Response to Handling Rejection

  1. Pingback: My Very First Review! | Here I Go…

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