Collecting: The Dreaded Rejection

I collect rejection slips.  We all get them.  But do any of us love ‘em?  The way I look at them is that each slip means I’m one slip closer to an acceptance.

I started collecting mine in a file folder (back in the dark ages before internet and electronic submissions).  I thought there would be a magic number (somewhere around 30, but for sure by 50) after which all the rest of my submissions would magically turn into acceptances.  I wanted to watch my file folder grow fat as I grew closer to my first sale.  I thought that the faster I filled my file folder, the faster I would get there.

I was wrong about the number.  I filled three fat file folders with rejection slips before my first sale.  And I was wrong about the magic.  My first sale didn’t stop more rejection slips from coming.  What it did stop was my obsessive need to collect them.

Here are some of the classics:

The first rejection:  (Backstory:  In college I bravely sent off to a slick magazine the very first story I had ever written—you can imagine how awful it was—and I received back a formal business letter from New York, typed on a typewriter—no corrected errors—as credited by the editor’s secretary.)  “Thank you for letting us read ‘Descent from Hell’.  Although your manuscript has much to recommend it, this type of material is, unfortunately, not right for us.  Regretfully, we are returning it to you.”

The funniest rejection:  A letter addressed to someone else, whose name was scratched out and my name handwritten above.  The handwritten P.S. to this letter added, “we use no reprints.”

The nicest rejection:  “I rather like your style of writing and suggest you try us again.”

The most irrelevant rejection:  “Not even the names of the characters are believable.”  (The names used were Chelsea and Jade, okay maybe not so common.)

The most hurtful rejection:  I can’t find this slip in my file, but I recall it well, as it pointed out my inability to write, and suggested I should give up writing.  So here’s what the second most hurtful rejection says:  “Alas, we cannot understand anything that is goiing (sic) on in the story.”

The most useful rejection:  “This story made the top 10…However, I could only accept 7, and yours just missed out.  Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with a story (like yours), except it simply had too much competition.  Please keep trying!”

Now I have a slim but growing file folder of acceptances, and I can look back and laugh at my obsessive collection.  But I sure didn’t laugh at the time!

10 thoughts on “Collecting: The Dreaded Rejection”

  1. Joyce, that’s classic. I’ve kept my rejections; those that came via email have been printed out. I thought I took a big step forward when I got a reject that was address to me by name (instead of “Dear Writer”) and was signed by a person (as opposed to “The Editors”) and asked me to keep them in mind for future submissions.


  2. I used to keep rejections in a folder, but then I got to the point that I thought, why am I holding on to this negativity? I felt liberated the day I threw them away. I do have them all catalogued at QueryTracker, and I have folders of them in my email, but somehow that seems less of a reminder than a folder by my desk. And like Mary, I remember the day I got one addressed to me and not “Dear Writer.” That felt somehow significant!


  3. I have one, and I might frame it as it was the first one. It was quite kind–but I’ve met the editors making the decision and they’re all kind! However, I now have some fabulous ideas on what to do with them (as I’m sure I’ll receive many) and appreciate, again, that every writer has a collection of rejection letters. Sue, I’m glad you can laugh about them now!


  4. Loved this, Sue. The rejections make the acceptances so much sweeter, don’t they? (Or maybe the acceptances would be plenty sweet on their own. Probably so. Ahem.) My most recent: “I didn’t love it as much as I wanted to.”

    Btw, have you ever read Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections? Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet was rejected for being “Neither long enough for a serial nor short enough for a single story.” John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came In From The Cold was rejected as follows: “You’re welcome to le Carre–he hasn’t got any future.” HA!


  5. Those are great examples! Thanks, All! I would definitely add the first personalized letter as the sweetest one. Diane, I almost liberated myself of this collection on account of the negativity issue, but I couldn’t. It’s more like a trophy now. Cynthia, there’s something gratifying about reading about the rejections of famous authors. They conquered, and so can we!


  6. Ooh, just saw this online while looking for something else. Seems appropriate for our discussion! > “When I was 26, I wrote my first mystery, ‘The Thomas Berryman Number’, and it was turned down by, I don’t know, 31 publishers. Then it won an Edgar for Best First Novel. Go figure.” — James Patterson


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