The Rejection Collection

My most recent short story rejection was a “personal” one. The one before that was a form rejection. As were the three before that.

I am making progress on my rejection goal. 100 rejections for 2021.

Why aim for so many rejections? Am I a masochist? Do I enjoy making myself feel bad? Do I like receiving four to six emails at a time, all telling me “Thanks but no thanks. You suck.”?

Well, no. That’s not fun.

But Heinlein’s Fourth Rule of Writing is that “You Must Put Your Story on the Market” and the Fifth Rule is “You Must Keep it on the Market Until it has Sold.” See all writing rules here.

I don’t make the rules. I just follow them. Write, write some more. Submit, submit some more.

It’s harder to get 100 rejections than you’d think. And there are a couple reasons I think pursuing rejections is a good exercise.

First, you need a “stable” of pieces to send out. If you’re trying to get 100 rejections and you only have one finished piece, you’re going to struggle to get those rejections. Between “no simultaneous submissions” and slow response times from magazines and agents, you could be sending that lone piece out only a dozen times.

So you have to have lots of pieces — several short stories along with your novel. Or multiple poems and quite a few essays. Or some combination of the above.

To be rejected means you have to create things to be rejected. Lots of things. Which means, if you’re getting a lot of rejections, you’re doing a lot of writing and a lot of finishing. This means you have to follow Heinlein’s First and Second rules: 1. Write and 2. Finish.

Good for you.

Second, aiming to get rejections helps you overcome the tendency to ‘fiddle’ with a work, which just leads to it dying in a desk drawer on in a computer file somewhere. If the goal is a rejection number, then it doesn’t matter if the piece is good/bad/indifferent — it only matters that it’s been sent out into the world and that you can “succeed” at being rejected. Just ship it — as Seth Grodin says.

Side note: aiming for rejections has the delightful side effect of landing you acceptances. I signed a short story contract just last week. Stay tuned…

Third, rejection can make your work stronger. Out of my rejections these past few months, I received some personal notes from magazines giving me detailed “You came close, kid, but this is what hung us up.” Some of those notes I agreed with, made some edits, and sent the piece back out. Others I disagreed with, ignored the notes, and sent back out. But all pieces have become stronger over time.

Right now, it’s the first week of February and I have sent 19 submissions. I have 15 rejections and 1 acceptance.

*Cracks knuckles*

Time to go get me some more of those rejections.

Rejection short stories writing process

jenny maloney View All →

Jenny writes dark fiction that her mother hates. Her stories and essays have appeared in Across the Margin, Pantheon, Shimmer, Black Denim Lit, Skive, and others. When she’s not writing her own stuff, she’s reading mysteries for Criminal Element. When she’s not writing fiction or reviews, she’s writing/directing/performing/designing plays at Springs Ensemble Theatre.

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