To The Editor Who Can Appreciate My Work
“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address.’ Just keep looking for the right address.”
— Barbara Kingsolver
Writers get rejected a lot. The first few times are disheartening, but then, if you don’t end up curled under your desk in a fetal position, you develop a thicker skin. You plod along and hopefully you achieve a small victory: an essay or poem or short story is published, and it’s like water to a person lost in the desert: gives you enough strength to crawl on.
After four years of submissions of all sorts, I think I’ve grown a thick skin. I’ve been rejected and I’ve been critiqued and I think I handle both fairly well. But a couple of weeks ago, I had a rejection that crushed me. It was a small contest, but I had high hopes. I am not sure why this one hit me harder than usual, but I did what I sometimes do: take solace from other writers who have failed:
Like Stephen King, who used to stick his rejections on a nail on his wall, until he got so many, he replaced the nail with a spike.
Like Beatrix Potter. who self-published The Tale of Peter Rabbit after it was rejected so many times.
Like Agatha Christie, whose first novel received so many rejections, she never published it. Her second book also received many rejections until it was finally picked up—on the contingency that she change the ending.
Like Louise May Alcott who had a publisher tell her, “Stick to your teaching, Miss Alcott. You can’t write.” Ouch.
I wish I had been like Stephen King and kept track of my rejections, although since they now come via email, it’s harder to keep track of them. And sometimes you never hear back. You stare into the black void of your inbox and realize the nothing you see is your answer. I would be interested in calculating what my success versus failure ratio is. Or maybe I’m better off not knowing. And also better off not doing math. But I am pretty sure that for anything I’ve gotten published, for anything I’ve gotten an award for, dozens of rejections litter the path behind it. And this is true for most writers I know.
After reading about other writing failures and wallowing in my self-pity for an appropriate amount of time, I brushed the dust off and got back to writing. I will probably never be as successful as the writers I mentioned. Would I like to be half as well known? Absolutely. But I didn’t start writing for fame and fortune. I write because I hear voices in my head, and that means I'm either a writer or I should seek some help. I decided to try writing first. It seems to be working. Rejections not withstanding.
I am still out there looking for the editors who appreciate my poem, my essay, my short story, and I will keep looking as long as I can type. As Winston Churchill says, “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” And while my enthusiasm might get bumped and bruised, and occasionally take a mental health break, it’s still there, pushing me on.