Friday Speak Out!: That Stack of Rejection Letters and What to Do with Them

Friday, November 03, 2017
by Margaret Y. Buapim

You have a pile of them and with each submission another one comes. Will this ever turn into a yes, you wonder. It can be mind boggling and make you want to give up. You hope that your string of “luck” will change but is it really “luck” at all? The dream is to find that one agent or editor who wants to take your work on and help you refine it so much so that your project is ready for best seller status or at least awards season. Yes! This actually happens and can even take place with a stack of rejection letters. How so?

It's something I’ve learned in this journey but something I always believed fundamentally. A rejection letter or response is a type of acknowledgement that your work is memorable. Some may consider this an unusual optimism, but I preferred an acknowledgement rather than no response at all.

Recently I got such a detailed response from an editor however that I had to use, once I was able to digest, the very precise and seemingly critical feedback. I sent in two pieces. He hated one and outlined why and seemed to prefer the other advising further work on the piece. After two days of hiding from the advice but re-reading the response over and over, I decided to work on the areas that needed to be worked on in the story. I never got a yes from him on inclusion in the anthology, but I have a polished piece now that I am proud of and ready to submit to a more traditional publisher.

I’ve been writing from an early age--prior to high school--and I’ve been submitting my work to contests since college. I have had work published in the past, but now that I am a full time writer, the response time between submissions are longer and the consistent yes, I once heard are few and far between. I admit, my work needs dusting off. Could yours? When I get feedback, I work on areas mentioned and re-work the piece into something usable if not for that publication then hopefully for someone else. Keeping my work organized and ready for submission, I am building my writing catalog at the same time.

What are some elements that so many of us need to strengthen? Character description, development and voice. Imagery. The term ‘ugly prose’ has been used recently, but flowery descriptive language sounds and reads so much better. I want to reach that goal and I try out new genres to strengthen that writing muscle because preparation and opportunity intersect eventually. Why not be prepared?

So how do you recognize a good response guised as a rejection letter? It will go beyond the, “we were unable to use this.” It will give specific feedback: “Too many characters,” “Not a believable character,” you start to see a trend and can refine your work. It will also give you a name and title of a contact at the publication or agency. This has become a secondary benefit of submitting often and receiving responses. I hope to build relationships with those who are seeing my work. Granted I want my most positive stuff to shine, but can you imagine a Toni Morrison being on that other end providing you feedback? She was once an editor at Random House herself; a great mentor to be had by anyone, most would agree.

If we are honest, its usually the stuff we see but don’t know how to fix or have the courage to identify until its pointed out Perhaps a refined pitch or re-submission may naturally come about then once a connection is established. Build relationships and perfect your work that’s what can be great about that initial “no” called the rejection letter.

So now an assignment, start with that stack of rejection letters. I keep mine for reference. Any pointers you can take away?

For More on those who are picking up on this new angle of learning how to view rejection letters check out The Literary Whip, a semi-weekly podcast from Zoetic Press that engages editors on the pieces they have had to say no to and the reasons why.

Happy Writing!

* * *
Margaret Y. Buapim is the self published author of Ring Envy (2006), a Christian Fiction novel which can be purchased here.  She has been a full time author and magazine contributor since 2015. Although she is an emerging voice in the literary world, Margaret has been recognized by the Greater Los Angeles Mensa Society for her essay writing, published in the anthology River of Dreams for her poem "Children of the Night" and a guest short story contributor for Guide Magazine. She excited to contribute to Friday Speak Out in Wow! Women on Writing. Catch up with her on twitter @WorldMaggie as she chronicles her journey in writing with the hopes of inspiring and helping other writers find success. 
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Angela Mackintosh said...

Hi Margaret ~ If you received editorial feedback in a rejection letter, I think that's great, and fairly rare. Your work made an impression. :)

Congrats on making the leap to full-time writer, and thank you for the insightful post!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Margaret--I agree with Angela. I got a wonderful rejection letter with several paragraphs worth of critique--helpful critique.

Good luck with your future writing endeavors, and thanks for writing this post. We probably all have things we could "dust off." ;)

Amanda L said...

I recently read that before his first success, Stephen King put every rejection letter he'd received on a nail on the wall, and it got so heavy the nail eventually fell.

Jeanine DeHoney said...

Margaret this was an excellent post. I love that you say that a rejection letter or response is a type of an acknowledgement that your work is memorable. I wish I could have thought about rejections this way before. When you get feedback on a manuscript and take the advice given to rework it and make it even better, you are sure to find a home for it.

Happy writing to you too Margaret, keep submitting, and may you have many acceptances along the way.

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