Is The Art of Rejection Lost?

Filed as Features on June 12, 2007 10:07 am

Bang! Snap! Wow, I just had an amazing flashback when I stumbled accidentally upon “Getting Rejected? Feeling Dejected?” by Gloria T. Delamar, an article written a few years ago about your writing being rejected by magazines and publishers.

Beginning writers sometimes submit a manuscript with an inserted “trick” to see if the editor actually read it–certain pages upside down–a seed or hair between pages meant to be lost if the manuscript has been opened–pages stuck together, etc. Editors are wise to all these and are invariably put in a negative frame of mind at these amateur ploys. (And sometimes they leave the stunts in place on purpose). It’s not a good idea to tick off the potential buyer. Of course, tricks aside, many manuscripts would not be accepted under any circumstances.

One woman wrote to Walter Hines Page: “Sir: You sent back last week a story of mine. I know that you did not read the story, for as a test I had pasted together page 18, 19, and 20, and the story came back with these pages still pasted; and so I know you are a fraud and turn down stories without reading them.” Page answered, “Madame: At breakfast when I open an egg I don’t have to eat the whole egg to discover it is bad.”

Ouch.

Basically, this isn’t so much an article on overcoming publishing rejection notices but a listing of many famous writers and brilliant published authors of our past who are now household names. They once all suffered the rejection of those who thought they knew better and kept on writing, improving over time and eventually finding the publisher who believed in them and their work.

Some of these examples include:

Dr. Seuss’s first book, the delightful To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, went to twenty-seven publishers before acceptance.

Then there’s Mario Pei, whose The Story of Language, was rejected by sixty-three publishers before someone recognized its value. Now considered one of the foremost books on philology, it has been translated into every major language.

Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds, now the birder’s bible, was rejected by five publishers.

The brilliance of James Joyce’s Dubliners was unrecognized by twenty-two publishers.

Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull flew through some twenty rejections.

Irving Stone’s Lust for Life was rejected by sixteen myopic editors.

So why the flashback for me?

Before the Internet and web, fear of rejection for my writing and photography was a daily part of my life. Having sold my first photograph at 15 and my writing skills earning money soon after, luckily, I have a very small file folder of rejection notices.

Every time that letter in the long white envelope would arrive in my mailbox, I knew deep in my heart that this was a rejection notice. It just comes with the business. I would sit it on my desk and stare at it for a day or two, terrified to open it and get the bad news.

Finally, I’d open it and read, “Thank you for your submission. We would like to publish this in our magazine in February…” and life would start moving again.

But the paranoia of rejection kept me writing, working hard to improve every title, paragraph, sentence, and word I chose to put into my stories and articles. I knew they had to pass the rejection letter barrier.

Still, right now, in my desk file drawer is a folder with my very first and most recent rejection letter.

I can’t throw them away. I have been moving and traveling on the road for most of my life, and this folder, now many years old, travels with me wherever I go.

With that thought, I decided to peek inside. Other than lugging it around, I haven’t opened it in a long time.

The last rejection letter is dated 1997.

I just realized how the web and blogging has changed the reality of the rejection letter.

Blogging is Self-Publishing

Blogging has changed the whole industry and world of writing. The fear of rejection is now totally gone. You write, you edit (maybe), and hit publish and you are now a writer and publisher. You are in control of how your words are published.

You no longer have to research demographics and the publication you are writing for to make sure you are writing “for their audience”. You no longer have to go to the library and dig through back issues of magazines to find out what they have published in the past so you don’t submit a redundant idea. You don’t have to make phone calls and pour over mastheads to find out who the right person is to submit your article or images to. You don’t even have to worry about how long to wait for a response and how long before making follow-up calls to see if they got your submission.

And most of all, there are no more long white envelopes from publishers staring you in the face, threatening your writing abilities and self confidence.

There are no rejection letters when you are the writer, author, photo editor, editor, marketer, and publisher.

Acceptance comes from your statistics, how many visitors, how many feed subscriptions, how many comments, getting dugg by Digg or linked to from Wired, Slashdot, Engadget or TechCrunch. Your readers also give you a sense of acceptance or rejection, but never a crushing “Thank you for your submission. Your submission does not currently match our editorial needs at this time. Please consider submitting another article in the future…”

Honestly, other than the dreadful truth or nasty comments by another blogger or commenter, where is the rejection in today’s online publishing world for bloggers?

Without the rejection notice to temper us, to force us to work even harder at making our writing better, making it more “acceptable”, then what compels us to improve our blog writing?

“If you want a place in the sun, you’ve got to expect a few blisters.”
- Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby)

Blogs have changed the business of writing, making rejection letters almost a thing of the past, but has the fear of rejection stepped out of the training program for honing good writers? Is there anything to replace that fear?


Lorelle VanFossen blogs about blogging and WordPress on and author of Blogging Tips, Tips Bloggers Won’t Tell You About Blogging.

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  1. By Carmelo Lisciotto posted on June 14, 2007 at 7:29 pm
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    Blogs are the root cause of a lot of things…
    and not all of them good.

    Carmelo Lisciotto

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