Rejection, rejection, rejection…acceptance! Rejection, rejection…

[April 2011] Though my field of expertise is in chemistry, I hold a minor in math. I’m not sure that there has ever been a study to confirm or refute this, but I maintain a strange calculus: one acceptance letter is equal to any number of rejections. That is to say, an acceptance wipes the slate clean. I feel good about my writing again and I even feel armored against the next few inevitable rejection letters that will follow.

Another way to say this is: you have to develop a thick skin in this business and be persistent. I saw a beginning writer comment somewhere about a phenomenon described as “submission terror.” The condition was so disabling that the writer couldn’t convince himself to send anything out. In other words, he’s taken to writing his own rejection letters.

There is much to be said for persistence. I had a short story published recently by a pro-paying market that was originally written for a themed anthology in 2007. It didn’t make the cut (the editor told me he might have considered it if he’d received it less close to the deadline, and there’s another lesson to be learned there, assuming he wasn’t just sparing my feelings), so I de-themed it and started it on its rounds. Until the day it was accepted (I repeat, by a pro-paying market), the story had accumulated nine rejections, not including the original one. Each time I got it back, I updated my submission log, found a new market, and sent it right back out again.

That’s by no means a personal record. A fairly recent story found a home on lucky submission number thirteen. I published another that had been written eight years previously and accumulated 15 rejections, in a glossy magazine with national distribution.

When do I give up? Rarely. I have one story that I really like that has been rejected 20 times. I’ve rewritten it a few times over the years and, though I’ve yet to find the right home for it, I think it’s out there. It’s just a matter of keeping at it and researching the marketplace. I’ve never truly trunked a story, though some are in submission hiatus because I can’t think of any viable place to send them at the moment. I will occasionally consider a semi-pro market if it has a reputation that appeals to me, and I often give literary magazines a shot even though they rarely pay more than a pittance. I favor print over electronic publication, too, though I have published a number of stories in electronic media.

I still hesitate a moment before opening an e-mail that I know is a response to a submission. I feel myself cringe. I know the odds are against me, still, despite having published over sixty stories. I haven’t done the math, but I suspect that rejections lead acceptances by at least 3:1. Maybe higher overall, but in recent years that feels like the right number. But every one of those acceptances carries with it enough weight to overpower a number of rejections. I celebrate every one of them.

Rejections are rubber bullets. They may bruise but they damage no internal organs.

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