3 reasons writers should be happy about rejection

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How writers deal with rejectionWhen life hands you a lemon…

Look, you’re going to be rejected. It’s practically a prerequisite to getting published.

And while I don’t actually expect you to be HAPPY about it, I don’t think it should be crushing either — more like a momentary trip to Disappointmentville, and then you put on your positivity hat and get back to work.

I recently received an email from one of my favorite literary magazines saying “no thank you” to a set of new poems. A year or two ago, I would’ve been bummed out all day.

Now I just suffer a few seconds of self-pity pangs and remember these three things about rejection:

1. It gives you a chance to take another look at your work 

Maybe your story or poem is ready to submit to the next publisher or editor on your list. Or maybe it needed some extra attention, a different ending, a change of tone. Now that you’ve had some time and space away from the piece, you can run it through your finely-tuned “bullshit detector” to be sure.

2. You don’t want to be the least favorite writer in the acceptance pile

When a publisher or editors decides to take your work, you want to be one of their favorites. This is especially true if you’re putting out a book; you need all the champions you can get within that publishing house — but they’re not going to bring out the big guns unless they absolutely love your book.

It’s similarly true for literary publications. Magazines these days don’t just live in the print world. Most of them have companion podcasts, website features, reading series, and an active social media following. An editor is only going to highlight your work in those outlets if your story or poem is a favorite from the issue.

If you get one of those encouraging rejection letters that reads “Close, but not quite” or “We enjoyed your work; please try us again” — you may’ve been just shy of appearing in the issue, but you probably weren’t going to get the spotlight. Better to wait (and now, of course, you have no choice!), submit that work elsewhere, and hope that another editor DOES love it without reservation.

3. It doesn’t kill you, so it makes you stronger

Or something like that. For real, though — without resistance, you’d slide off the face of the earth. A little rejection keeps you connected with your craft in that it forces you to ask yourself hard questions: “Is this working?” “Does it feel true?” “What’s my voice, and will I stand by my creative decisions despite rejection?”

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Well, those are three ways of putting a positive spin on rejection. I’d love to hear what helps you get back into the submissions game when you get knocked down? Let me know in the comments section below.

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[“Disappointment” picture from Shutterstock.]

Chris Robley
Chris Robley is an award-winning poet, songwriter, performer, and music producer who now lives in Portland, Maine after more than a decade in Portland, Oregon. His music has been praised by NPR, the LA Times, the Boston Globe, and others. Skyscraper Magazine said he is “one of the best short-story musicians to come along in quite some time.” Robley’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in POETRY, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Beloit Poetry Journal, RHINO, Magma Poetry, and more. He is the 2013 winner of Boulevard's Poetry Prize for Emerging Writers and the 2014 recipient of a Maine Literary Award in the category of "Short Works Poetry."

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