Celebrating Rejection

Celebrate your accomplishments. Persevere over rejection.

Creatives hear this advice with stunning frequency.

But we all know rejection sucks.

Rejection comes with being a creative, certainly so with writers. Rejection by editors. Rejection by agents. Rejection by potential employers, or worse, existing employers.

Rejection by readers.

When I attended the AWP writer’s conference in February, I sat in large audiences filled with hundreds of creatives, all of us intimate with with Mistress Rejection. We listened to the literary-journal editors’ consistent message:

Journals get a ridiculous amount of submissions. Some manuscripts are rejected due to lack of quality, others because they don’t fit the publication’s tone or other works selected for that issue. Individual taste may vary.

Taken yesterday at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C. While orchids bloomed in the Garden's steamy enclosure, this brave soul was opening itself to the universe in the chilly outdoors.

Despite all the talk of rejection, I left encouraged. I had never submitted to a literary journal. Having had hundreds of thousands of words published had not led me to believe I could assemble words worthy of such imprimatur.

But this is my year of change. I reminded myself that after two decades of denial I was at that time taking a creative writing class.

So I took a short work I wrote in that class and submitted it to a respected literary journal. Here’s the email I received from the journal Friday:

Dear Patrick Ross:

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to read “The Clear Monkey.” We found the writing lively and interesting and enjoyed reading it. After careful consideration, we’ve decided this manuscript isn’t right for us, but please consider sending other work in the future.

This is not our customary rejection. We hope you’ll keep us in mind.

Kind regards,

The Editors

Athletes often say it’s harder to lose a squeaker than to suffer a blowout loss. Here I was so close. This should be a crushing blow.

Instead I’ve been on a multi-day high. I printed out the rejection and showed it to my wife, to my daughter, to my son.

This week I intend to put the final polish on a second piece and send it to those editors. I’m keeping them in mind.

What’s your experience with rejection?

UPDATE, MAY 23, 2011: I just received my second response. Here’s this editor’s email: “Thank you for sending us ‘The Clear Monkey.’ I enjoyed the experimental point of view and the understated nature of your narrative. However, I wasn’t able to convince the other editors of this. Please consider submitting to us again? Thanks again. Best of luck with this!”

UPDATE, MAY 25, 2011: Third time’s the charm. I received an email today. This editor wrote: “Thank you for sending us “The Clear Monkey.” We love it and would like to publish it online. We’d like to also consider this piece for our magazine, our upcoming print and digital format edition. Please send us a short bio soon.” So a happy ending after all!

UPDATE, JUNE 16, 2011: The post went live today on the web site of Shaking Like a Mountain. You can read “The Clear Monkey” here and my post about writing it here.

27 thoughts on “Celebrating Rejection

  1. It’s not a rejection, it’s an invitation to persevere and try again. Very nicely put, I have to say. And congratulations on sending them another piece.
    It’s the beauty of a blog, isn’t it? You can get your words to the people who are ready to read them without a ‘judge’ acting as an in-between.

    A pleasure to read you on Monday mornings! 🙂


    1. Maryse, it’s always a pleasure to have feedback from you, and always so promptly after posting! 🙂

      You’re so right about the blog, but it’s also nice when you do get officially published. They’re both sources of positive feedback.


  2. I recently had a similar experience with one of my first juried art show entries. When I arrived to pick-up/discover if I had made the show I was pulled aside and informed that although I hadn’t had a piece accepted – one painting had caught the eye of the judge & he had taken my number. (he had wanted it in the show but the venue didn’t allow nudes to be displayed. He even tried to get special permission.) A few weeks later at the awards ceremony – he bought it!

    For me just hearing the positive feedback was more than enough to overtake any feelings of rejection!!! Like you, I shared the news with everyone! Selling it made it even better!


    1. Wow, Andrea, that’s fantastic! And how great to know your “rejection” was over some arbitrary rule (which would have disallowed some of history’s greatest art).

      I especially appreciate you telling me you shared the news. I wrote this post on Saturday and spent the weekend wondering if I should post it, if it was too much “me” and too close to boasting. But I’ve come to think of my blog readers as supportive friends, and that seemed the right group to share the news with.


  3. LOL, this is like the classic breakup line, “It’s not you. It’s me.” Of course, it’s often true in breakups and certainly true in this case. I would be dancing around the room after getting a “rejection” letter like that! I’m wondering where else you might submit “The Clear Monkey.”

    Congratulations on submitting the piece in the first place and on getting such a great response!


    1. Thank you, Sue! I do have a couple of other publications in mind, I learned of many of them at AWP, they had tables and you could walk up, peruse the publications, and meet the editors. Very cool.


  4. Dear Patrick,

    Oh, how familiar I am with mistress rejection. Especially with my newest line of work, as I work to find my voice and how I best want to say what it is I want to say. (I’m heading back to the land of painting soon, just need to work out minor details like supplies.) After applying for a state-wide grant last year, I followed up on their offer for feedback to any who wanted it. The result was, my project was never considered past the initial viewing stage, where 10 pieces were looked at over the course of 30 seconds. OUCH. I admit that hurt. After being rejected for this grant four years in a row and then hearing that I was really *stung* by Ms. Rejection for the first time in years.

    The person who was giving me the feedback’s reaction? “Stop it. It doesn’t mean anything about your work. This particular panel may not care for it, but next year’s panel will be different. I encourage you to submit again. If you can’t take rejection, you shouldn’t be applying for grants, because you will get plenty of it. You need to be tough and keep going.”

    And to him I say, an excellent reminder, sir. Thank you for the straight talk/kick in the pants. I’m in the process of applying again for this year. I will get it eventually!

    Congratulations on your resubmission so quickly after that (may I say, very kind) “rejection”. Some rejections may not be so soft or kind-hearted. Just remember that even if Ms. Rejection plays interference for her sister Acceptance for quite some time, with persistence, you’ll wear her down. 😉


  5. It sounds like you received some good advice. As to the speed review, I think that’s what these journals are forced to do, given the volume of submissions they get. Sad, but reality.


    1. Alsmost everything in the fine art world happens that way. 30 seconds to impress a gallery owner, 30 seconds to impress a grant, fellowship or residency panel, 30 seconds (sometimes less) to initially impress a jury panel. If it doesn’t knock their socks off/they don’t instantly take to the work … it isn’t getting in, period. Brutal, but that’s the way the ball bounces in the world of fine art!


  6. Oh, I just love personalized rejections.

    I got one the other day and I was the same as you — huge high for the rest of the day. Plus, they gave me pointers on why they could not accept it, thus propelling me to go back, look it over and make it better.

    To me, form rejections are more crushing than personal ones.

    Great post!


  7. I treasure those professionals who can write a good rejection letter. They don’t have to, but they always leave me wanting to submit to them again. I received one such rejection letter from an agent, and it left me with the impression that he was one class act!

    The hardest part about rejection is keeping faith in your own abilities while being turned away by others. That’s why writers should always try to produce their best work, and then put the baby to bed while it’s being submitted and wait for the market to sort itself out. I know I can drive myself crazy wondering if I’ve missed something or done something wrong.

    Do your best, and then move on. It’s all we can do in the end. Great post Patrick.


    1. Thank you, Dianna! You know, I like your notion of putting it to bed once submitted. I have something out right now and I keep saying to myself, “Oh, maybe I should have done this, or oh, what if they would have preferred that.” But it was done, it was ready to go, and that’s that. “Do your best, and then move on.” Exactly!


  8. When I first started writing I let rejection get to me and cause me to stop writing for nearly 2 decades (all that lost time…ugh!).
    Now with a new start I’m hoping to use it as motivation to keep going–my first query hasn’t gone out yet, but I’ve already prepared myself mentally for the upcoming stream of rejections! ;o)


    1. I hear you on the lost time, Shannon. I was away from my creative writing for awhile, but I celebrate that I’m now back, as you are too. So don’t worry about those lost years, think about how great the years are ahead of you!


  9. Argh! Near misses — so difficult, so modd splitting. My “best” one was from an agent who loved the idea in Jaguar Sees, thought the characters realistic, liked the dialog but wasn’t “passionate enough” about it (I think this meant she didn’t think she could sell it). It was great to know my writing was professional level, but awfully discouraging. If someone who actually liked the book wouldn’t represent it, where could I go? To Kindle, of course!


  10. I think this is such an encouraging post, and I think your photograph and its caption are quite appropriate for not only the season, but how we feel as writers as we dare to share our work.


  11. Congratulations, Patrick. Thanks for sharing this story. These types of letters are rare, as you well know. I’m glad that you have taken this rejection as encouragement. Rejection, and how we handle it (criticism too), have a lot to teach us. After well over a year of not being able to write, I have learned that the best solution is to keep writing–and submitting. That said, acceptance is thrilling, and I hope when your submission is accepted, you’ll write about that too. So glad I found your site. ~ Carolyn


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