The first girl I asked out said no. You would imagine therefore that I’d be pretty good at dealing with rejection. Which is lucky. All writers are rejects. We all have had at least one story turned down at some point. Even the fully fledged novels published by the Big Six have been redrafted once, twice, thrice, a dozen times. Rejection is a writer’s winged familiar, perched on his shoulder, his constant companion.
Two out of every three publishers I’ve submitted work to have turned me down. A success record of 1/3 seems fairly average, and I’m proud of it. My first short story, Heavenbloom, was rejected three times before its eventual acceptance. The Little House at Bull Run Creek, a horror short coming out as part of a World Weaver Press anthology next month, got four previous rejections. Two other horrors, The Devil’s Own and Golden Seas, were rejected once each. Two others, a fantasy and a horror, were dropped because the publishers went bust before they were released. I’ve yet to find either of those new homes. I’ve only had two stories picked up by the first press I sent them to and that was only because one, Heavenfall, was Heavenbloom’s sequel and the other, After-Class, went to a publisher I’d specifically written it for.
Nothing can quite prepare you for rejection. There’s a part of you, a sneaking, unworthy, unwelcome part which stubbornly believes in your own invincibility no matter how humble you train yourself to be. That part of you is shocked when the email comes through without the little attachment symbole next to it. There’s no contract in this email. Sure enough, you open it to find “I’m afraid it’s just not what we’re looking for just now.” A form rejection, or something couched in apologetic terms, or even a stark denouncement of your story’s faults. All equally stinging. Sometimes they don’t even bother responding at all.
I got rejection number twelve yesterday. This one was special. I’d had enough of the short stories and the small presses, this time I was pitching big. I was pitching my first novel to a literary agency.
What did I expect? To snare an agent and then publisher on my first go? Not really, even I’m not that vain. But I was rather hoping they’d ask to see a writing sample. All I’d sent was the query letter. That was more than enough for them though. “We’d like to apologise for the impartiality of this reply,” the rejection form began. The familiar on my shoulder sniggered, flapping his wings.
I got the same sensation then that far too many military commanders have had over the past century and a half. I realised that the war wasn’t going to be over by Christmas after all. I opened a new Word document and entered three columns marked query, partial and full. Under query I put the name of the agency that’d just turned me down. At the top of the page I entered the header – “REJECTIONS.” I fully expect those three columns to be full in a few months’ time. One thing’s for sure though, when I get as far as my first full manuscript rejection, I’m throwing a party. As for actually getting accepted, well, if that ever really happens then you can rest assured, you’ll know about it.