Famous Writers on Literary Rejection

Famous Writers on Literary Rejection

“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

I’m at that wonderful, novice stage where I cherish not only rejection, but all its various shades. Recently I received a “good news, bad news” notification from an electronic publication: I had made it to their second round of selection, and still had a 50% chance of being rejected! Yea! It totally made my day.

“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”  – Neil Gaiman

The same week, I finally received a personalized rejection from a print publication: “we’d like to see more of your work in the future,” it said. I thanked them for that, and sent something else that I hoped would be more to their liking.

“Rejections 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

I am striving to live by “Heinlein’s Rules”, which are out there for any aspiring writer to find, but which he boldly published, declaring that few would follow them. My favorite on-line discussion is here by Sci-Fi writer Robert J Sawyer, but here’s the executive list for those too busy to follow the link (I’m with you, believe me):

  1. You must write
  2. Finish what you start
  3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order*
  4. You must put your story on the market
  5. You must keep it on the market until it has sold**

*Dean Wesley Smith has much to say about this in Killing the Sacred Cows of publishing. I happen to rewrite, a lot (I’m also new at this, and incidentally, I also get rejected, a lot). But the point is you have to know when to stop and kick the baby out the door.

**Hence the reason I started this post with a reference to lots of encouraging words about rejection!

“Rejection has value. It teaches us when our work or our skillset is not good enough and must be made better. This is a powerful revelation, like the burning UFO wheel seen by the prophet Ezekiel, or like the McRib sandwich shaped like the Virgin Mary seen by the prophet Steve Jenkins. Rejection refines us. Those who fall prey to its enervating soul-sucking tentacles are doomed. Those who persist past it are survivors. Best ask yourself the question: what kind of writer are you? The kind who survives? Or the kind who gets asphyxiated by the tentacles of woe?” – Chuck Wendig

So keep writing, finish what you write–whether it’s a love letter or a novel–and cherish those rejections.

Some days I’m lucky if I finish a grocery list, but I could do worse than to live my personal life by Heinlein’s Rules as well.

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One thought on “Famous Writers on Literary Rejection

  1. Pingback: Advice from Robert J. Sawyer | Foil & Phaser

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