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Don’t Fear the Reaper — The Value of a Good Rejection Letter

All of the feedback you ever received from friends and family is worth far less than one good rejection letter from an established editor. I’m talking about a good rejection letter, not a cookie cutter, not “Thanks but not at this time” note. A rejection letter that gives you reasons why your story is not fit for the publication you sent it to.

If you are going to write for any publications at all, whether print or web, you are going to get turned down at some point. It might happen early one, or it might happen after a few successful attempts. But make no mistake, it will happen.

Why do we fear rejection so much? If you any of us are going to take a step forward we are going to have to ask for help, a date, an autograph, a picture, or a writing assignment. We all need to be prepared to hear or read the word No, and deal with it.

Getting rejected by another human being is hard. It says, sorry — you or your work is not what I want. If you’ve poured our heart and soul into the work you are asking to have accepted, then that rejection comes like a punch in the gut.

But it might just be not what I want right now.

There are a lot of reasons for rejection, and you can learn from them all. Many letters come with something that at least makes sense, such as “it’s not the right time” or “we already have something like it.” Then there are the rejections that carry more weight, such as “It doesn’t fit with our publication”.

If all they ever do is discourage you from writing, you will eventually stop. It’s hard to keep doing something that doesn’t bring joy, and writing to be repeatedly rejected will suck the life out of you if you let it.

Editors are just people whose job is to ensure they provide the best content to their readers. If your content doesn’t fit for any reason they are not going to run it. It doesn’t matter how much time, effort, or blood, you put into it.

However, if you stop sending stuff to editors they will run out of things to publish. They want your content. But, it has to work for them. If you send something in and it is not published, that does not mean SLAM. That door is now closed forever. It just means Please Try Again Later.

Look for meaning in any rejection you get. Even if it’s not spelled out in the body of the rejection notice. If it’s the wrong time of year, remember — they are planning out a few months. Although it might be Spring when you submit, they are very likely to be working on the Fall issue.

If it doesn’t fit their publication, do some research. Did you read any of their back issues? Do you know what voice they like? Did they happen to run something similar recently? These are important considerations.

Or, was your work turned down because it wasn’t very good? We all MUST consider that possibility at all times. Read your piece with fresh eyes and consider what it would look like in Conde Nast Traveler or Time. Is it really good enough? If not, go back and rewrite.

But learn, figure out what went wrong, and adjust accordingly. Don’t just toss the letter in the trash, delete your article, and sulk.

I have found that almost every rejection I have received has come with valuable information that helped me approach the magazine again, and succeed. The editors who have sent me rejection notices have taken the time to tell me why my work was turned down. And, all of them have said “please send me something again.”

We can learn so much from the experience of being rejected, and can also grow from each one. And yet, rejection is one of the things we fear most in life. Personally, I was so terrified of rejection that it kept me from succeeding for more than 35 years.

Why? What possible pain could come from a simple no thanks, or not now? What horrific misery can we be forced to endure just because someone said No? There are thousands of magazines out there, enough that we could never hope to read or write for them all in our lifetime. If you’re rejected, move on.

A good rejection, from a good editor, will include why, what, how. One of the best learning experiences I’ve ever had was the No I received from an editor I really wanted to work with. However, he included almost two pages of information about approaching magazines and then went on to coach me to acceptance.

Although he accepted my finished piece, he asked for changes. That’s sort of like a mini-rejection, it’s like “Hey, I like this except for this one paragraph that happens to be the on you’re most proud of.” But by listening to the editor and making those change I recognized why he wanted them and that made me a better writer.

Don’t fear the reaper, it’s just a speedbump. Figure out why you were rejected and move on. Either move on to the next article, or try again in a different publication, but move on.

Rejection. It’s not a death sentence, it’s just No Thanks.

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