The day I decided to focus on rejections was the day I turned my publishing track record around.
I was on a writing teacher retreat through the Sarah Selecky Writing School. My friend, Nicole, mentioned in passing that she knows someone who has over 300 rejections in his Submittable account. (note: Submittable is an online platform for submitting creative work to journals, publishers, etc). I realized right then that was a goal I could reach. I could not guarantee that I would ever get published again. But with enough hard work, I could absolutely reach 300 rejections.
Nicole and I set up a little writing partnership: every Friday we would email each other with our writing accomplishments for that week. So I decided that by Friday, I had to have made five submissions, for contests, journals, anthologies, etc. I learned it was okay to simultaneously submit stories (DIDN’T KNOW THAT!) to more than one journal at a time. I made myself an Excel spreadsheet which I colour-coded: clear for on submission, red for rejected, green for accepted, blue for withdrawn, yellow for something notable like an honourable mention or personal feedback.
After a year, here’s what I had: 120 submissions, nine publications; 55 rejections, a whole bunch of no responses. And a whole new perspective on what rejection really means.
The publishing industry (which is totally different from the writing creative process) is like one really big conversation. When you submit a story, you are inviting yourself into the conversation. Rejection is part of that. So is acceptance. So is no response. But the only person who can keep you in the conversation is you. Once I accepted that rejection is nothing more than keeping the publishing conversation flowing, I stopped fearing it. Rejections would come in, I would note them and then move along. Most importantly, every Friday I made five more submissions. I kept myself part of the conversation.
By the end of the year the nine acceptances meant I had enough interest in my stories that maybe, MAYBE, someone might be interested in the collection as a whole. I sent it off to the editor of my previous novel, Holding My Breath. She is now the assistant publisher at House of Anansi Press. She passed it onto one of her editors, who loved it.
I’ll admit: the best part of the publishing conversation so far is the phone call I had with Michelle (my wonderful editor) back in April 2019 when she told me yes, she wanted to take this book on. That was a joyful conversation.
Rejection isn’t joyful. And it can be downright disheartening. But writing doesn’t begin and end with rejection or publication. I keep writing and I keep myself a part of the conversation. No matter how many people tell me no.