If you’re an aspiring author, then perhaps the most important lesson you need to learn is how to deal with rejection, because believe me, you’re going to encounter a hell of a lot of it throughout your career. It can be all too easy to take it as a personal insult when a story you’ve devoted months, maybe even years to, comes back with nothing more than a cursory:
Thank you for submitting to Really Busy Publishers, but we’re going to pass.
Lesson Number One – Just because they turned it down, that doesn’t mean it’s no good.
Publishers have dozens of different reasons for declining a story. Your voice and style might not be a good fit for the house style, they might already have published something similar recently, your story crosses into genres they’re not comfortable handling…none of those mean it was no good. I found that the hardest part of editing anthologies was sending the rejection emails to those who didn’t make the cut. There were many times that I genuinely enjoyed the story, but it just didn’t have that innate sense of being ‘right’ for the anthology and the other chosen stories. So take it from me, if the editor says they liked your story and you would be welcome to submit to a different call, they probably mean it! I never said it to anyone if I didn’t really mean it.
Lesson Number Two – Think about why it might have been rejected.
Be honest with yourself. Did you read and follow the submission call? Did you format your story in line with the publisher’s request? Did you proofread properly, or was it strewn with tiny little mistakes throughout? It’s hard to self-critique, and that’s why it’s great to have a trusted author friend or beta-reader to bounce ideas off and ask for honest feedback on how to improve if you’re struggling to see the wood for the trees.
Lesson Number Three – Don’t forget the stories that were rejected.
Just because they weren’t right for one publisher doesn’t mean there isn’t a home waiting for them somewhere else. I’ve spent the last six years writing and polishing short stories. I would say approximately half of them have been published now, and some of them went to four or five different publishers before they were picked up. There’s no shame in that. If you believe in your story, keep sending it out there – and if you don’t, you shouldn’t be submitting it yet.
If you have any further lessons to learn, please share them in the comments below!