Dealing With Rejection

HWY (1969)

So, the email or letter arrives thanking you for your submission, but letting you know that your work will not be used in that particular publication. Depending on your experience, you may use the rejection as motivation to keep going and try and improve upon your work after the initial sting, or you may brood for hours, certain that the editor(s) have taken great delight in excluding you, as if you are a child on a playground that everyone would rather ignore.

Go Ahead, Get Mad

Yes, get mad. Perhaps those editor(s) really would not know a good piece if they read one and perhaps their taste is terrible. Perhaps you are the next Stephen King or Anne Sexton, and they have no clue. Maybe one day you’ll go down in history as a Picasso or Ansel Adams or start a revolution in whatever your creative niche is. But for now, you’ve been rejected. And rejection is always disappointing to some degree. After all, didn’t that Writer’s Group you joined cheer you on and didn’t your grandmother say your art was amazing? Hmmph. Stupid editors on their high-horses reveling in their power!

But, wait. Did you read the guidelines before you submitted? Did you at least glance at what type of work is accepted? Did you get a true feel for the literature/art that the publication deems worthy? If you really did all this, it could be that you missed the mark in some small way. Do not let that deter you from trying with the same publication again. It could have been one line or brush-stroke that kept you from being accepted, and some editors will even tell you that you were close and invite you to submit again in the future.

If you really did not research the publication and were rejected, then you might want to ask yourself how seriously you are taking your work and how much the literary/art world means to you. Without any research on a particular publication or even reading the guidelines, well, no wonder you were rejected. You must accept some of the responsibility for that. Certain publications look for certain types of work, and if they are not very specific in their guidelines, you can look at what they’ve published and get a feel for whether or not your work has a chance of being accepted. Some publications are quite broad in the material they accept, while others are more narrow. If you’ve done your research and are still undecided on whether or not they would like your work, then give it a shot and see what happens.

Yes, it can be time-consuming to do the research when all you really want to do is create and submit your work as much as possible. But I speak from experience; spending at least a small amount of time researching the place you are submitting to will not only keep you from wasting your time, but also the time of any editors or publishers, most of whom aren’t getting paid or even thanked for the hours they are devoting. And chances are, they have their own creative work underway and their own submissions to focus on, along with yours.

So you stomped your foot, shook your head, maybe felt discouraged. Now it’s time to get back to your creative work and accept that the rejection was nothing personal and that the editor(s) are probably not snobby, power-tripping creeps. After all, it’s likely that they have dealt with rejection several times themselves. Most editors know the disappointment of rejection and most want nothing more than to find a reason to accept your work. But it has to be a bigger reason than just not wanting to “hurt your feelings”. They have to stay true to what the publisher expects of them and the overall tone of the publication.

Stay True To Yourself

In the literary and art world, there are all kinds of categories that you just might not fit into. Accept it. Don’t try and be the “scholarly” poet who throws in a few complicated words to make the piece seem more intelligent. More often than not, readers and editors do not want to spend their time looking up words in a dictionary. Furthermore, don’t try to be a rebellious, edgy, stray-from-the-mainstream type if you are not that. Believe me, just as in the real world when you are face to face with people, pretending to be someone you are not will eventually show through to those attentive enough. Don’t let your own style/truth keep you from experimenting or learning different styles by any means, or keep you from becoming more educated or formal (learning is always a good thing), but don’t be a knock-off either. Keep your original passion and remember what drives you. And as hard as it may be (especially for beginners) to accept rejections, don’t let it deter you from continuing to create or let it immobilize your passion for doing so.

If Changes Are Suggested

Every once in a while you might get more than a form letter rejecting your work. A very nice editor who has the time and patience and likes your work may suggest changes and specify that they will accept the piece if such changes are accepted by you. Either accept it or don’t, but don’t argue with the editor(s). You are only breeding frustration on both ends by doing so. Also remember though, it is your work and if you do not agree with changes, be honest about it in a polite manner and try to submit your piece(s) elsewhere. Do not accept changes you do not agree with just to be published. If you do, chances are every time you see your published work, it will nag at you.  And if you are wondering why most editors don’t suggest changes or tell you what they think is wrong or right, well a lot of it has to do with time constraints and the experience of having those who submit actually choose to argue. So either accept suggested changes or swiftly and politely move on.

If You Keep Getting Rejected

So you’ve tried numerous times and are rejected repeatedly. Yes, such a thing can cause deep discouragement and you may even feel like quitting. At such a time it is important to be gentle with yourself and maybe take a small break from submitting your work to pamper yourself and do other things you enjoy. It is also a good time to read up on whatever your creative niche is and gather inspiration from those you admire, such as reading your favorite poets or authors or admiring the works of your favorite visual artists. Also use this break time to educate yourself more (some libraries even offer free art and writing classes online) and absorb and practice. Do not by any means start destroying your work or let the sad critic in you take over. The ever-so- famous Vincent van Gogh only sold one painting in his life, and was not the most well-liked or respected person, but never did he stop painting entirely. Consider the great impact he eventually made in the world of art and how much power resonates from his works to this day. Even his letters have been published in thick volumes. If he in all his turmoil, torment, and lack of popularity could keep creating, then so can you if you are passionate enough about it.

Today, more than ever, there is access to learning a lot without even having to pay a dime, and there are also several books that are designed to encourage and restore creativity. Two I highly recommend are The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and the audio book The Creative Fire by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. If you really are in a place of deep discouragement over rejections, perhaps while you’re taking a short break from submitting your work you should check them out. And then get back to those submissions…

Heather Lenz

Heather Lenz

Poetry Editor at Stepping Stones Magazine
Heather Lenz is a poet, editor and visual artist. Her poems have appeared in both online and print publications such as Enigma Rag, Mind Eclipse, Adoration, The Monarch Review, Carcinogenic Poetry, Ink Sweat & Tears, Falling Star Magazine, Because We Write and others. Born and raised in Washington State, she continues to explore new outlets for her art, which birthed Ravens Among Me, a site dedicated to her creative expression.
Heather Lenz

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