Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Believe It: Rejections are a Measure of Your Success

When I talked to you guys about guest posting, I never imagined the response I'd get! Thanks to everyone who came forward (I've kept the list so those who didn't get a shot this time can drop in another time).

Today is the first guest post in my Rejections and Perserverance series. Her name's Margaret and she's got some interesting things to say about how that pile of query rejections in your drawer can be a gauge of your success as a writer. I think she's absolutely right. So take note!

Your Rejections Are a Measure of Your Success
By Margaret Telsch-Williams

Rejections come from everywhere: they arrive in the mailbox, they shoot into our inboxes when we aren’t looking and when we’re checking it every five minutes. They span contests and grants, book publishers and magazines. We’re writers. We get rejections.

By now we should be used to it, right? We should shrug these things off, tack them on a nail on the wall a la Stephen King, or shout to someone in the next room, “I got another one. I’m getting closer.”

But we don’t. Instead we feel depressed, sometimes we cry, or we may consider throwing in the writing towel. We read those words over and over which often include a variety of letting-you-down-easys: a pleasure reading your work, thanks for submitting, not for us at this time, came close, I regret to inform you, and unfortunately because of the volume of submissions, blah, blah, blah.

If you’re lucky some vastly attractive person is sitting nearby to rub your shoulders, bring you coffee or wine, and tell you, “It’s okay.” I used to let the rejection simmer inside of me for a day before I even mentioned it, and for what?

The problem is that we’re programmed to believe rejections of our work are somehow also rejections of ourselves, but this simply isn’t true. The “yes” or “no” we receive is a black and white reflection of our work, but the rejection itself carries the gray area of information for us. In this gray area, you have the ability to swim endlessly and believe it or not, rejections are a measure of your success.

Yeah, maybe it isn’t that story’s time or maybe that story isn’t what they want, but the rejection can lead you forward even when it seems like it’s jamming on the brakes. Rejections show you your place on the scale between amateur and genius. There are better writers out there than you and there are worse writers out there, and your rejections hopefully say you fall in the middle.

The middle, by the way, is filled with great company.

Although you may want to trash every rejection that comes your way, keep your rejections in the order they arrive. If there’s no date, add it. If there’s no title of the piece you sent to get the rejection, put it in. Make each rejection tell you as much as possible about the submission and store them in a folder either real or virtual in the order they came to you. Rejections are not, I repeat, are not absolute and permanent banishment into the writer dungeon. Don’t obsess about this folder!

Now, you dust that story/novel/query off, you give it a read through, fix errors, make changes, do a line edit, etc., and submit the piece somewhere else. Continue this process, over and over, and keep the rejections (and acceptances) coming.

Let a few months go by, maybe a year, as you work until you have a good stack going. Then look through them. There are different levels of rejections from dreaded pre-printed form letters, to decent form letters with small notes written on them, to amazing personalized rejections and rose scented rejections which encourage you to submit again.

These rejection levels are your measurements. Compare the dates of your rejections, the submissions you used, and over time you should be able to see a healthy trend which climbs the ladder. The longer you stay in the game, the more small notes and personalized rejections you should start to see which eventually lead to acceptance.

If you’re not getting anything but form letters time after time, then your rejections are telling you to work a little harder, revise more, change your cover letter, or research where you’re sending your work better to make sure you’re sending to the right places.

To make the rejection ruler work for you, you collect your rejections, you see where you stand, and you work harder. The more your rejections climb, the more successes you can expect in the future.

(FYI: If you're not interested in working harder, then you might as well step into another profession, like neurosurgery.)

Hard work is what writing is about. Rejection is what it's about. Your rejections are trying to tell you if you’re getting better or not, so you’d better listen to what they have to say.

Margaret is a freelance writer by day and a fiction writer by night. When she’snot writing home & garden or entertainment information, she’s murderingfictional people, tearing families apart, and casting spells. She has anundergraduate degree in taking the comma out, and a graduate degree in puttingthe comma back in.

You can find her at:

Blog: http://www.mtelschwilliams.blogspot.com
Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/mtelschwilliams
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/profile.php?id=100000048439494


  1. While I had read about this topic before, I never thought of using the type of rejection letter as an indicator of how well you're doing.

    @Mrs. Salter: Say, not that I'm probably be able to write a guest post any time soon, but how many people volunteered for it?

  2. That was a insightful post, my thanks to both Aimee and Margaret. Although I have some way to go, checking back through my first query letters is definitely a measure of how far I have come.

  3. Co - I think it was a dozen or more? I had several who contacted me, then didn't get back, but four who are doing guest posts and another three or four who are interested in doing something at another time.

  4. I see. So there's a line of about eight.

    There's a couple of books that I want to use my writer's eye to show the craft behind it. One is for YOU and another is for THE HELP. However, one would probably be negative (on an unsympathetic protagonist), while another is positive (the conflict and goals in one scene), respectively.

    But I'm only thinking. I doubt I'll be able to get to it.

  5. Love this post. I never thought of it that way, thanks for opening my eyes.

  6. Very interesting post. I'm not even at the rejection stage yet (got to have something finished first), but I'll revisit this post when I do. :-)