On Twitter this past weekend, Amanda asked:
What’s the most rejections you got on a piece before it sold? Please note whether it sold pro, semi, token. #battlescars
I think it’s an important question, especially to authors who suddenly find themselves selling regularly, which may give the impression to newer writers that all stories are an easy sell, and these authors no longer face rejection. This, I can assure you, is not the case.
For me, the answer was 31 rejections, before I eventually placed the story with a non-paying publication, but a publication I liked even so. (“Inventing Isaac” appeared in issue #11 of Gone Lawn.)
Amanda followed up with: “What’s your most-rejected piece that got paid in the end?”
That one is kind of illuminating, too. That story received 26 rejections, before finding a home at Realms of Fantasy (August 2006, “Indigo With Distance”). You completely could have knocked me over with a feather after that sale. It still pleases me and I love the artwork so hard (Zela Lobb, you rock!).
I have experienced the other side of the coin, where a story sells to its first market out of the gate, but this is a rare thing, like a unicorn made of Toblerone chocolate. That’s like getting hit in the face with a pillow full of glitter — it’s pretty, but it also steals your breath for a while.
Still, 31 rejections. What keeps a person sending a story out, a story that is so obviously flawed and terrible and clearly not worth anyone’s time, let alone money, and who am I, anyhow, thinking I can write!? For me, it was that I liked the story. I believed in it and felt it would eventually find a home. I had shared it with enough readers to know it struck a cord with people; I had good feedback from editors throughout those 31 rejections to know it was a good piece, it just wasn’t a good fit for those markets.
You may wonder, when would I have trunked it? This is a hard question — even now, there’s not much in my trunk, because I still believe in every story I have circulating. (15 of them at present! It looks like I have about 17 in the trunk — one of which I very much want to rewrite because it haunts me. I need to have tea with the contrary muse.)
True facts: not every story will find a home and rejection is part of the package when you sign up to be a writer. As of this writing, I’ve gotten 40 of them this year alone (and have been collecting them for 13 years).
If rejection is part of writing, so too must be perseverance. Usually, you have to stick with something to be any good at it. The first time I made bread…let’s not even talk about that — it took a while for yeast and me to get along, yes. We don’t know how to ride a bike the minute we climb upon one. We don’t know how to make lasting friendships the first day we attend school.
Neither do we know which stories will fit which markets, because editors (oh, editors!) have their likes and dislikes, and you never know what will strike them as a good fit. You can study the market, the voices they lean toward, the authors they do publish, and give your story the best possible chance out there, but the chances of it gathering a few rejections before it finds its proper place are high.
Rejection is part of the business. Lather, rinse, repeat.
How long you keep sending a piece out will probably vary, depending on where you are with your writing career, and exactly how stubborn you are (31 rejections, 31!). I can only tell you this: keep going. If you stop, you will never be hit in the face with a pillow full of glitter carried by a Toblerone unicorn.
And who doesn’t want that?