For ten years I edited a magazine that published true confessions. More than anything, sitting in the editor’s chair taught me that good stories get rejected for all kinds of reasons. Even if you’ve polished your work to a gleam, the piece may still be too long or too short. Maybe they just published something similar or the editor’s friend turned something in and they’re trying to make room. Could be they’re changing direction or they’ve accepted too many pieces already. Then again, maybe it’s not to the editor’s taste or you’ve hit one of the editor’s pet peeves. There’s no way to know when you receive that bland “thank you for thinking of us” note.
It’s easy to say that you are not your work. Even if you understand intellectually that you are not being personally rejected, it still stings to read a rejection slip. Anything that could salve that twinge seems like a good thing. When it came to submitting my own work, I wanted to find a way to make rejection a little more fun.
In January 2012, I read a blog post that set me on fire. Business coach Tiffany Han’s goal was to get 100 rejection letters before the end of the year. Her objective was not really to collect the rejections themselves, but to force herself beyond writing for her friends’ blogs and speaking on podcasts of people she knew. She wanted to push herself to take risks. I was thoroughly inspired, although my own efforts fell far short of 100 rejections that year.
In Fall 2014, Tiffany created the 100 Rejection Letters program. Excited by the thought of a community of writers making a game of seeking rejection, I plunked down my cash. Turns out that few of the people taking the program were actually writers. Most of them were entrepreneurs starting their own businesses. To answer their needs, the program’s focus shifted away from writing and podcasting.
The most inspiring part of Tiffany’s program was — for me, anyway — a chart that she meant to hang on your office wall. Every time someone sent you a rejection, you could reward yourself with a shiny gold foil star. The point, of course, was not to court rejection. Collecting the stars was meant to take the fear out of submitting your work.
While Tiffany’s program continues for entrepreneurs who need help kicking their new businesses into gear, I’m working on my own version of the 100 Rejection Letters Challenge. Since I’m going it alone, I’ve modified it to suit myself. One of the things I’m doing is to announce every rejection I get on my Facebook page. The purpose was originally to take the sting out of rejection (my friends have been so encouraging), but it also serves to demystify the submission process and has inspired others to face their fears and get their works into submission.
As I go along, I keep refining the challenge. I’ve had to define for myself what constitutes a rejection. When I volunteered to head up a table at a local literary festival, I felt that someone should do it, but I didn’t really want the job. I was relieved to find someone else had already spoken up. I toyed with the idea of rewarding myself with a gold star, but decided the reward for being rejected – in this case – was not having to do the job. To be able to count a rejection, I decided, it has to hurt at least a little bit.
I allow myself to count stories, poems, and essays, as well as pitches I make to public speaking gigs and podcasts. I can’t rely simply on my written work, because I just don’t have a large enough backlog of unpublished stories. Besides, the response time of most publishing venues is too long to reach my goal before the end of the year. At the same time, I really need to push myself to volunteer to speak in public, whether to appear on panels at conventions or to read my own work.
The upshot of all of this is that I’m already 14 rejections into this year’s 100. Those rejections represent both stories I’ve sent out and requests to be on programming that have been turned down. Those 14 rejections represent 45 submissions, some of which have been acceptances. Others are still awaiting response.
Don’t get me wrong: it doesn’t matter how many of them you get, rejections still hurt. Every time I open a rejection letter, I still feel a pang of disappointment. I sit with the feeling for a couple of breaths, then get up and put a gold star on my chart. Then I look around to see where else I can send my work. The sooner something is back in the mail, the sooner I will get what I really want: those magical acceptance letters.
Want to join me? I challenge you to make collecting rejections a game. You’re welcome to award yourself a gold star every time you get one. Got a list of places where you wish your work would appear? Now’s the time to submit to them!
Maybe there’s a larger reward you can give yourself after every 10 stars? After my first 10, I took a day off with my daughter to go to a museum. Every 10 stars seems like a good time to seek a little inspiration and recommit to the challenge.
If I make it to 100 rejection letters this year, I’m going to treat myself to a bottle of Lillet and another pack of gold foil stars. Then I’m going start my chart all over again.
How do you plan to get out of your comfort zone and get your work out there? You can’t get published if you don’t submit.
Loren Rhoads is the co-author (with Brian Thomas) of Lost Angels and its upcoming sequel Angelus Rose. She’s also the author of The Dangerous Type, Kill By Numbers, and No More Heroes, a space opera trilogy. She blogs at www.lorenrhoads.com.