Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Collecting Rejection Letters

Anyone who seeks publication with their works inevitably receives rejection letters. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but there is something to be gained from each one.

Keep every rejection letter you receive. If it’s an email, print it out. Keep them in a folder or drawer somewhere near your writing space. It shouldn’t be a monument of spite so much as a monument of progress. This is proof that you are a writer with intent, even if you’ve never seen the light of publication. I can’t even count how many people I’ve run into that talk about wanting their writing published but have yet to submit to a single market.

Rejection letters, even form rejection letters (non-specific to the submitter) inform us of a market’s response time. There are sites such as duotrope’s digest and the Black Hole that report response times, so use those in addition to personal experience to get a feel for how long the wait might be in the future.

After multiple submissions to the same market, you’ll start to notice a pattern in the rejections. If the pattern changes, pay attention. There was a market that I submitted to years ago that had a form rejection letter where they put checkmarks next to a series of statements about the story. On one such letter they had checked a box next to a line commenting that they wanted to see more of my work. The response to my next submission didn’t have that box checked. Had I shuffled it away without looking at what had changed, I might have missed an indication that one story was weaker than another (at least in their eyes).

Celebrate the personalized responses, especially if they come from markets that typically send form rejections. If the editor provides reasons for the rejection, take another look at your story in light of the comments. Before acting on a single opinion, you may want to ask someone else to read the story and give some feedback to see if there is agreement with the editor (this may also help clarify broad issues). I do, however, think it’s better to lean more towards considering an editor’s opinion than ignoring an editor’s opinion.

There are other fun things that could be done with rejection letters, such as making giant origami structures or new wallpaper, but that would take another article by itself. For those who already have fine collections going, keep at it. There’s no reason to get discouraged now. If you’re just starting out, don’t worry. You’ll catch up soon.