Using Rejection Letters To Your Writing Advantage
Rejection letters are usually viewed as the bane of a writer's existance, but a good writer can use this seemingly negative information to his or her advantage when seeking new markets. Here's how to use rejection letter information to improve chances of future acceptance.
Very few people in any chosen field of endeavor would voluntarily want their ideas to be rejected 98 out of 100 times. But that's precisely the sort of numbers a beginning freelance writer can expect to see until he or she has established a beach head in the cutthroat world of publishing.
No one has ever escaped the rejection process, unless they had the resources to self-publish, which can be a very slippery slope indeed. Rejection letters are simply a part of a much larger picture in the writing business- there are very few openings and a tremendous amount of people competing for those spots. Getting published is a bit like those cattle-call auditions that actors go through every day- imagine a room filled with 200 people who looked exactly like you and wore the same clothes and talked the same way. Now choose your replacement.
Writing is the same sort of numbers game, and chances are your work may not survive the first cut. But you can still learn from rejection, if you know what to look for and are willing to be honest with yourself and the other people involved in a very complicated process.
First of all, no one is above a rejection letter, even the best writers you know. They may not receive quite as many, but that is primarily because they understand the markets that welcome their work and those who would be less likely to accept their new pieces. A beginning writer must learn to do the same thing with rejection letter information. If you have a growing collection of rejection letters, take them out of the box and look at them objectively. Do you notice a pattern? Almost every fiction writer alive would love to have a story published in a magazine like Esquire or the New Yorker, but is that a realistic goal for the beginning writer? In a perfect world, maybe, but in reality the chances of getting your first story picked up by a major magazine is extremely unlikely. If your rejection letters represent the cream of the crop in the publishing world, you may want to lower your sights temporarily for a better shot at acceptance. When writers talk about 'getting established' they mean gaining a reputation through publication in smaller outlets until someone in the bigger market notices their work. Don't let the higher payments and larger circulations of the majors keep you from learning the craft in the smaller markets.
Another thing that rejection letters can offer a beginning writer is honest criticism. Many fledgling writers have a difficult time obtaining objective critiques of their work. Relatives and friends want to be supportive, so their opinions may have more than a little bias in them. Teachers and other professionals may have a more insightful opinion into the material, but they are not presented with 200 manuscripts a week that look just like yours. Only an overworked, underappreciated editor understands his or her market well enough to judge whether your work is suitable. They are the people you are trying to impress. Do them a sterling favor and impress them- follow guidelines to the letter, send your best work, provide all information requested. If you follow the rules, you stand a better chance of getting a few personal notes on your rejection letter. Many rejections occur simply because the writer failed to follow the guidelines to the letter. When faced with a 'slush pile', the editor's nickname for unsolicited work, any excuse to keep from having to read every last word is occasionally taken. If you are fortunate enough to get some personal words from the editor, take them to heart. Not everyone gets that privilege. You may find that a few minor changes will get you back into serious consideration. Use that information to your advantage, and resubmit to that editor in due time.
Finally, rejection letters can help you find your niche in the writing field. Many beginning writers try their hands at different genres, from technical writing to scriptwriting to poetry, and everything in-between. But few writers are able to write publishable works in every genre they attempt. Short story writers often try their hand at a novel, only to find they haven't got the ability or inclination to expand on their characters or create intricate storylines. Non-fiction writers sometimes attempt to write fiction, and find that they are much better off writing about the real world instead of creating a fantasy world or science fiction.
Each market niche has a different relationship with their writers, and rejection letters can help you determine your true calling. If you notice that your fiction pieces are being rejected consistently, but your non-fiction magazine articles are being accepted left and right, then you can narrow your focus to that particular market. This doesn't mean that a magazine writer should abandon his dream of writing the Great American Novel, or a science fiction writer shouldn't keep working on that play, but writing is a business as much as it is an art form. Other business people sell their products to the markets that need them, so you should do the same with commercial writing. Go with your strengths to get established, then work on your weaknesses when you have the luxury of time and success on your side.
Rejection letters do not have to be seen as anything but a necessary evil in your chosen line of work. Save them if you must, but savor the acceptances every chance you get. Much like any other art form, writing is ultimately about the joy of success, not the pain of rejection.