Maybe this should have been my Valentine’s Day post…. Nah, too painful.
No, I’m talking about story submissions. Every writer has to decide how many times they are willing to brave (and receive) rejection of a work (poem, flash, story, novel, etc.) before they shelve or circular file it. Lots of writers have the same answer:
They never send anything out. They don’t want to. Some just don’t trust their work enough to show it to anyone. Some just don’t want to deal with rejection letters because it will hurt too much or just make them angry. Some just don’t have any interest in having their work published. They are writing for themselves alone, or for a close circle of readers they know personally.
Many others, of course, want to see their work published. A growing number of those writers bypass any chance of having their work rejected and self publish everything. The rest of us may be doing some self publishing as well, but we’re also still pursuing the traditional route of finding markets, submitting work and crossing our fingers (when we’re not typing something new).
So. For those of us in that last group, how many rejections is too many anyway?
It depends. There aren’t really rules, just guidelines. It’s sort of like the Pirate Code. Here are some of the guidelines I’ve picked up and adopted along the way:
- Don’t even think about revising a piece until it has been rejected at least a few times. Say, 3 or 5.
- Even then, only put the patient back on the operating table if you have received consistent notes about why the editors who read it don’t think it works. If multiple editors are telling you the story opens too slowly, it’s worth taking a hard look at the opening, for example.
- However, if you have received only the most formal of form letter rejections (no feedback at all) or, maybe worse, a range of well- intentioned criticisms that don’t create a usefull pattern…best to smile bravely and keep submitting it. Silence tells you nothing. Scattershot feedback isn’t enough to act upon.
- 10 rejections is sort of the magic number for me. All of my published and forthcoming work was accepted before it received ten rejections. By then, if I haven’t received feedback that I find helpful enough to motivate me to revise the work again, I usually shelve it. A few years will have passed. I always have newer and, I think, better stuff. I’m usually able to let go and say goodbye to an older work by that point.
- But not always. I just shelved a story after 20 rejections, a new personal record. I wrote it in 2003 or so. Enough readers and listeners said encouraging things about it along the way that I figured it was just a matter of time. Surely someone would want to publish it. No one did. So far…. Because there’s alway the chance I learn about some new publication or project that is looking for exactly this sort of story. And I’ll happily send it to them.