I once thought there was only one kind of rejection slip/email: a bad one.
Dear Fool, we’ve had a record number of submissions by so many amazingly talented writers and we are so sorry that we couldn’t include yours on this occasion, but keep writing! (code for: this is surely just a hobby for you, Fool?)
But experience has shown me that there are all kinds of rejections. They’re never quite good, but they can be worse than bad.
They say to be a writer you have to be able to handle rejection. But are there limits? No! As a writer, you have to accept whatever rejection is handed to you – and don’t complain. Because, especially in the tiny fishpond of Australia, you’ll likely not only bite off the hand that feeds you, but the entire arm.
So I have never complained about any of my rejections. No matter how painful. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to share one with you. I just won’t name the goldfish that tangled me in its long, stringy defecation.
I received an email telling me a publisher had accepted my book of poetry for publication. My first book! Bring out the banjos and bring on the boot scootin’. Put the bubbly on ice. Literally. Drink it! Eat a good meal. Ring and email friends. Get email next day: my apologies, the other editor of our press doesn’t like your manuscript so much and so, Dear Fool, we won’t be publishing it after all.
That makes perfect sense.
In a parallel universe. Where people are all evil.
Fortunately said poetry book was published elsewhere.
But, of course, rejections can be almost good. I once received a rejection from a journal called Crime Factory. It came with a full page of critical feedback. I agreed with 80 per cent of it. I patched up the story and it was published in a different journal, and later in my book of stories, Dodging the Bull.
I sent a story called ‘The Favourite’ to three journals. I was almost broke at the time. They all rejected it. I was shattered. I was sure it was a good story. Then I sent it to a competition. It won. $4,000. And was later published in Island magazine (another $400) and then my book. Rent covered for a while.
I know I’m just telling you another version of that stupid story that non-writers like to tell their writer friends who are having trouble getting their manuscripts published: Hey Writer Friend/Fool, did you know that J. F. Orwell Rowling King was rejected 40,000 times before they got Carrie the Animals to the Potter published? Yes, it’s true! There’s hope for you, Fool!
No there isn’t. They were great writers. With great ideas. That’s how I feel (as well as smearing hummus in their face) when someone at a party gives me this spiel. It’s how you feel about this blog, no doubt. The manuscript you’re trying to get published might be about two frogs who wear make-up. Mine’s a novel-in-stories family saga that studies postmodern masculinity. Maybe we could swap?
In the end, there’s always a beginning. And a sunny side of the street that’s about to get rained on. And there are almost good, and even-worse-than-bad rejections. Accepted or rejected, you’ve got your rejection stories and I’ve got mine. We just have to accept it.
But maybe there are only good rejections. Because if our goal is, as the famous quote goes, to take care of the writing because the rest will take care of itself, then we are on track. Because rejection slips mean we are still writing.
Fools that we are.
Paul Mitchell is a past Going Down Swinging contributor and features in issues No. 19–No. 23, No. 28 and No. 30. Paul’s books are Dodging the Bull (short fiction), Awake Despite the Hour and Minorphysics (both poetry). His latest poetry book, Standard Variation (Walleah Press), is coming out next month.