Racking up the slips

Mile after mile: Rejection slips are just indicators of miles traveled.

James Lee Burke submitted his fourth book, The Lost Get-Back Boogie, 111 times. After more than a decade of rejection, the book was published and nominated for a Pulitzer. One publisher informed aspiring author Rudyard Kipling “I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” And let’s not forget “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” rejected for containing – gasp! – “unpleasant elements.”

Sometimes it seems like the writer’s main task is to withstand the slings and arrows of the wrathful editor. It can be useful to think of the rejection slip as a kind of toll payment slip. If I’m in a truck carrying 25 tons of lumber from Augusta down to Tallahassee, I’m going to collect a lot of toll slips. Should I lose heart? Far from it. Each newly acquired slip – though hardly cause for celebration – is a sign that I am on my way. True, there are no convenient road signs reassuring the writer “Publication: 60 miles.”

But bear in mind that a rejection is categorically the opinion of an individual. Like that squeamish fellow who rejected Oscar Wilde. In fact, your rejection may not be an “opinion” at all. The editor may be seeking a piece this month that is shorter than yours. Or longer. Or, if your piece is humorous, she may already have a humor piece for that month

So be proud! These dreaded banes are just indicators of miles traveled.

Rejection slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil – but there is no way around them.

– Isaac Asimov



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  1. Peace4all

    I read about a guy who wallpapered his office with rejection notices. It always seemed like masochism to me. He took them down eventually because non-writers didn't understand.

    1. I don’t paper my office with them, or even collect them in a scrapbook, as some people do. But I try to keep a positive attitude about them, and bear in mind just how necessary they really are in order to move forward. If my failure to success ratio is 25 to one, then I’d “like” 250 rejections this month. That’s 10 acceptances! 🙂 If my ratio is 50 to one, then I’d like 500 rejections!

  2. Lynn

    I don’t know what successful writers have in common, but I know what unsuccessful ones, do: They all gave up! 🙂

  3. allUzombies

    By this standard we are all making real progress! 🙂

  4. PandaLee

    Whenever I get a rejection it gets me really depressed. It’s useful to put this into perspective, as you do so here. I can’t agree that they are something to look forward too, but I know that you just can’t avoid getting them entirely.

  5. Anastácia

    Your posts are always so explicative, and i like it because i have a problem in understanding such things. Thanks for the fresh perspect9ive, I really hate rejections.

  6. Barbarella

    Well there’s nothing good about rejections slips. It’s no use pretending that you like them! I could make due with none at all, thank you very much. Many people get dejected by offhand rejections and form letters.

    1. Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently. ~ Henry Ford

  7. casinoX

    I wish it were as easy as you make it sound here. Lacerations of the soul, indeed! You need a thick skin in this business, people gang uo on “your babies.”

  8. Marie


  9. Pat Porter

    You are very philosophical about rejection. Yeah, the writer mentioned by Peace4all is Marc McCutcheon, who Used to walpaper his office with his rejection slips, until he heard one of his clients say: “Boy this guy is like Charlie Brown. Never gets to kick the ball.”

    That’s when he realized he was presenting the wrong picture to the rest of the world. Other writers might get the idea, but the general public misperceives something like that. I don’t collect my rejections slips, but if I did, I’d hide them away where I only had to look at them when I felt like it. And away from prying eyes.

  10. rae louboutin

    I don’t pay attention to the opinions of others, especially not about my writing. You have to have the courage of your own beliefs and stick to your guns. I got negative feedback when I attended a seminar but I let it roll off my back, and eventually I did publish a piece that I did show the instructor there, in AlienSkin. Instructors and editors can’t know everything.

    The best thing to do is get revenge on critics by getting published eventually. Ann Patchett always said that her motivation for being a successful writer was to have revenge on all the teachers and bosses who ever doubted her. That’s motivation enough for me, too. So just toss those rejection slips in the circular file. They’re just somebody’s trash talk.

    1. Pratchett also said:

      Praise and criticism seem to me to operate exactly on the same level. If you get a great review, it’s really thrilling for about ten minutes. If you get a bad review, it’s really crushing for ten minutes. Either way, you go on.

      So, as you say, don’t dwell on negative feedback. I would advice everyone to lend an ear at least to constructive criticism, but just take rejection as one of those things.

  11. BrianGush

    There are a lot of things that they teach you in school which turned out not to really hold water in the real world when you are working as a writer. Don’t start a sentence with and, don’t start a sentence with a part, don’t say “then” say “and then.”

    What you really have to do is read good books, books that you love and that you know are the best of the genre you would like to write, and see how they do it.

    The point in fiction is not to be a real stickler for the rules, but to write the most exciting prose that you can.

    That said, you have to go over your manuscript with a fine-tooth comb for legitimate, serious mistakes.

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