Handling Rejection

March 7, 2012 at 1:00 pm , by Alyce Wilson

Writers become used to rejection, but despite making snarky comments about papering our bedrooms with rejection slips, few of us really enjoy hearing “no.” Whether it’s a letter with a hand-written note from the editor or an impersonal slip of paper, rejection notices are never fun to read. It’s hard not to view them as a personal assessment: an indication that perhaps we’re not the writer we thought we were.

Losing a contest is no easier, especially in the cases where we were certain we had a chance. Perhaps we imagined how much of a difference the cash prize would make, or exactly what we would do with the free time that a grant would allow us.

So how do you get something positive out of rejection? First of all, if possible, find out what beat you out. In a contest, read the winning works. In the case of a literary magazine, check out the latest issue. Compare that to the pieces that you had submitted and try to figure out what the published pieces had that yours might have lacked.

About 90 percent of publication has to do with finding the right fit, with 10 percent being professionalism (proper spelling and grammar, polite cover letters, following all guidelines). So when you’re rejected, try not to take it personally. Instead, try to figure out where your work might fit better.

I compare it to trying on clothes in a department store. As any woman knows, this can be a disheartening experience, whatever your body type. A long time ago, I learned a technique for saving my self-esteem: rather than blaming myself for every ill-fitting outfit, I tried to assess what it was that made the outfit a poor choice. Then, when I returned to the floor, I looked for items that might be cut in a more flattering way. In other words, don’t blame yourself; just accept that the clothing is wrong for you and spend your efforts finding something that works.

You can’t avoid rejection, but you can change how you respond to it and find a way to turn it into something positive.

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