Staple Your Rejections To Your Chest And Wade Into Battle With Them As Your Armor

Wake Up, Samson, My Old Friend As you may know, I’ve received now a — *checks e-mail* — not insubstantial pile of rejections regarding my novel, Blackbirds. It’s still out with a couple-few publishers, but for the most part, a goodly number of them have passed on the project, and when they passed they tossed a note or three to my agent, and she tossed those notes to me.

They were fairly good rejections, if you can say such a thing. A bad rejection would of course be, “This goofy fuckwad is literary poison; his vile prose caused me to void my bowels all over the neighbor’s cat. And my neighbors are litigious.”

These rejections were mixed, but generally positive — they like my voice, like my writing, even like the book (?!), want to see my future work, but this book might not be “for them.”

That’s okay.

I mean, it wasn’t okay at first. At first, I kind of wanted to drown myself in a dirty bucket.

And then jump in front of a garbage truck.

And finish it off with an Everything bagel, where “Everything” is just short-hand for “bird flu.”

I got over it, though.

I mean, here’s the thing. When it comes to rejections, you can pretty much go one of two ways.

The one way is abject despair. You take the rejection as a sign from the gods that you’re pretty much an asshole — a lesson that the world would be better off with you as a janitor, a speed-bump, a heroin mule.

The other way is you pick yourself up out of the dust, pull the arrow of your chest (yes, this will be painful, try not to cry about it), stuff some clods of clay into the wound, and run headlong back into battle.

Remember: you fail until you succeed. That’s how life is. Life is a game of inches — progress gained in sometimes agonizing increments. Sure, sometimes you make a big leap forward or slide a little backward, but fuck it, what else are you going to do? Tuesday didn’t go well; are you going to stab yourself in the temple with an icepick just so you don’t have to see Wednesday?

Writing sometimes feels like a miserable, masochistic career choice, but it also has dizzying highs that really can’t be ignored. Plus, you do it because you can’t do anything else. Frankly, I’ve painted my talentless self into a corner over here: I have one talent, and one talent only: juggling infants writing.

What the hell else am I going to do?

You come out the other side of rejection and, if you’re the real deal, I think it starts to go beyond despair and it moves toward happy, ardent rage — a kind of wide-eyed tooth-baring zeal. Suddenly, you come to realize that these rejections aren’t badges of shame, but rather, motherfucking battle scars. It’s some Viking shit. Your rejections are proof that you’re not just talking the talk, but you’re walking the walk.

Hell, you’re crawling through trenches.

You’re stabbing guys in the neck with your pen.

With your mighty manuscript you’re batting screeching Valkyries into the mud and smashing their heads with your laptop.

You know what makes a real writer? Rejections, that’s what. That’s what separates the talkers from the doers — guys who staple rejections to their chest and wade into the fray with those very same rejections as their armor, well, they’re the ones fighting the battles to win the war. Everybody else is just pretending.

So, that’s the realization you need to come to with rejections.

Badges of honor.


Proof that you’re doing shit.

Yes, you need to learn from rejection. You just keep doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result, well, that’s textbook crazy. Or dictionary stupid.

But you learn.

You move forward.

You stab, boot, kick, and bellow your barbaric yawp.

That’s what I’m going to do.

Right after I finish eating this bird flu bagel.


    • Thank you, Doctor Collins.

      I am a Viking berserker whose legacy will be contained in the stories I scream from atop the pile of corpses I made.

      And sometimes I cry myself to sleep shut up.

      – c.

  • So I have this corkboard. I put scene cards up on it in act-sized chunks so if I ever go “Where the hell am I going with this act?” I can look up at the corkboard and go “Oh, right.”

    It also makes me feel all writerly, with index cards. It’s a total accessories thing, I’ll admit.

    But taking up part of this corkboard is my first rejection letter. An e-mail from a podcast called Pseudopod. It said that they liked me story, but I had some issues, and gave me some concrit on those issues.

    I printed it out and put it on my corkboard. It is something I am PROUD of. It will only move from that corkboard if and when my girlfriend goes through on her plan to get me a new one with a white board in the middle.

    It is my most sacred badge of honor. Any who tried to take it would suffer grievous harm, most likely from whatever object was closest to me at the time. It reminds me of where I’ve been, and the first time I sacked up enough to actually send one of my stories out into the world. Now I must, every time, rustle up that amount of sack.

    • @Patrick:

      And it is for this reason that I’m thinking a corkboard might be more versatile than a whiteboard. A corkboard holds whatever you can pin to it. But a whiteboard only holds what you can write there.

      – c.

    • @Josh:

      Exactly that. Getting to that point means you finished something, polished it (er, hopefully), and pushed it out in to the world like a squalling baby. For better or for worse, you got there. It’s the crossing of a threshold.

      – c.

  • I have a file right next to my monitor. A War File. It is my bane and my inspiration.

    It’s contents recently spawned a full rewrite of an old short story about primates. I’m loving the process, though I didn’t love the letter(s).


    • @Keith:

      I highly approve of the term “War File.”

      Over time, I learned to love the process *and* the letters. For the reasons stated in the blog. A wound hurts when it’s fresh, but when it forms a bad-ass, rad-ass scar? HELL YEAH. Show it to the ladies.

      – c.

  • Love the imagery, love the message. Very inspirational sir, even to someone who isn’t – and won’t be – seeing rejection letters for a good long while (have to send stuff to get them I hear, though I have been toying with the idea of querying agents for rejection letters just for fun, and to get used to the idea).

    I need to get back to work while the image of a viking bashing a valkyrie’s head in with a laptop is still fresh!

    • Heh, thanks, @Anthony. Appreciate it.

      As for having work — well, keep on doing. Get a daily count going, finish something.

      Actually, I think you maybe just inspired a post for next week. Stay tuned.

      – c.

  • A chestnut, perhaps, but in the spirit of this entry:

    “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

    - Theodore Roosevelt

  • War file. I like it.

    Ah, I wish I still had the one from 2002 that caused me to quit sending things out for a couple of years. It was from Weird Tales, basically saying the story was too weird and what was wrong with me anyway?

    Since then, I have gone on to many form rejections, and lately, many personal rejections. I haven’t had my sanity questioned for years; my previous WT rejection asked for more material (after they open again). Allllmost there.

  • Rejections suck. I have a pile of them from rinky-dink literary mags and other venues. I have seven from major publishers. I’m waiting on ten more submissions. Hopefully one won’t be a rejection.

    The difference, I guess, between the lit mag rejects and the major publisher rejects, is the lit mag rejects – these inconsequential little fucking magazines with very little pay to go along with it – were more brutal and depressing because of the “back to the drawing board” aspect of them. With the major publishers, a “close pass” is a win because this editor is aware of me as a writer now, and I’ve written more than one book. He’ll definitely be seeing another manuscript from me in the future. If Stacia so deems.

    So, even with a reject, I’m gaining ground in the publishing world.

    Plus, with the rejects I’m getting now from publishers, the reasons for rejection aren’t the quality of my writing and storytelling, but the marketability of the book as an idea – usually. I occasionally get a reject that says, “I didn’t really buy into Gus as a character” or “I had problems with the believability of [X's] voice.” But usually, my rejections go, “We really loved this book, it’s well written and a fun read. However, right now, we’ve got a big zombie IP and are worried the marketplace is super-saturated with the undead. For us to release a new zombie based novel, we’d have to be totally in love with it and I’m afraid we didn’t love this book enough to make an offer.”

    Being rejected because of marketing purposes hurts me less than someone saying “This book is a piece of crap. Who told this guy he can write?”

    This bit of publisher-speak irritates me – “we just didn’t love it enough to make an offer”. I’ve received a few variations of that phrase.

    Why, oh why, did I write a zombie novel?

    • @John:

      Those were roughly the level of responses I got, too — a lot of “we want to see more from this author,” but also a lot of, “we don’t know if we can sell this.”

      On the one hand, that takes the pressure of me, and puts it on the book.

      On the other hand, it’s frustrating to receive a variation of: “Oh, love the book! So I’m rejecting it.”


      I get it, it’s a business, so I’m not mad about it, but it’s one of those things you run up against and is frustrating.

      And zombie novels — despite saturation levels — are like vampire novels. And Jell-O. There’s always room.

      In my mind.

      – c.

  • There’s that scene in a lot of cop movies that’s pretty much a cliche now, the scene where some wizend old copper pulls the young punk cop aside after they’ve been temporarily thwarted by their foe and tells him (or her, but hey, we’re talking cop movies here, so probably him) not to worry, that their punk foe has to be perfect, can’t make any mistakes ever, because as soon as he (or she, see caveat above) does, then they’ll have him. They can make all the cop mistakes they want, but as soon as the criminal fucks up, they’ve got him.

    I figure it’s pretty much the same deal with writing. You can get rejected as many times as it takes. You only have to be accepted once. We’re the good guys.

    And hey, HEY, be careful out there.


  • And when you say one of us, I can feel you looking at me.

    Did you here the one about the 90 year old man looking down into the can after taking his first fully solid, well-formed dump in years? Of course, he says “I’m too old for this shit.”

  • I’m surprised that you never came across the Teddy R. quote, Chuck. It immediately sprang to mind when I read your entry and thought that it might be the (unconscious?) seed of your yawp. The quote is almost Shakespearean and I sometimes imagine that, while the quote is being spoken by an audience member in the arena, the blood-sweaty man in the dust is muttering, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…”

  • I got more than a few of those as well. “Love the voice, lots of fun, very marketable, give it to somebody else.”

    Yes, the first several sucked. After a while, though, you start to get a little zen about it.

    I think it’s important for writers to keep a couple of things in mind whenever they put something out there. I know this helps me a lot.

    You are not your writing.

    Yes, it’s important and yes, you put a lot of effort into it. But it’s just a thing you made, it isn’t who you are.

    You might think it is. It might feel like it is. But it ain’t.

    Because here’s the thing, you’ll write something else. You’ll get this book done, or that story done and then you’ll move on and you’ll do more. Just like carpenters and chairs, painters and landscapes, hookers and johns.

    So when someone sends you a rejection, they’re not rejecting you. They’re probably not even telling you your work sucks.

    And if they’re taking the time to say what they didn’t like about it, or why they can’t accept it, they haven’t given you a rejection, they’ve given you a gift.

    “Here’s how you can make this better.” If they thought it sucked they wouldn’t have said anything in the first place.

  • While I tend to take a calmer approach (I like to save my aggression for tormenting my poor characters) I really love this. I have tons of battle scars at this point and I am brandishing my pen while I go hunting for more. I know there is victory out there. I have tasted it a few times. It is well worth the pain.

    Very well said.

  • You know, being the recipient of hundreds of rejections, I have to add one small, mostly irrelevant, thing to this discussion. Unless the rejection specifically mentions something you can work on, i.e. your characters suck rotten eggs, then rest of the rejection is horse hockey.

    To focus on phrases such as “we loved your writing, but blah, blah” is forgetting the obvious: they didn’t, in fact love your writing or your story or anything of the sort. If they did, they would have bought the book. They’re just trying convince you to do what Lucy always recommends to Charlie Brown, “Don’t go away mad, just go away.”

    Those nice phrases are the candy they give you so you won’t notice the bullet tearing through your heart. The “I love your xyz” means nothing, nada, zip. So get over it. It’s the equivalent of the “it’s not you, it’s me” part of the breakup speech. It’s just there so you won’t go all postal on the sendor of the message.

    Don’t be tempted to read extra meaning into these stock phrases in rejection letters. They are just a rejections. If one rejection has some useful grain of info in it, such as exactly what caused them to upchuck when they read your manuscript, then great. Try to learn something from it.

    The rest is pap.

    So shove it in your rejection notebook so you can prove to the IRS that you are, indeed, out there and trying. Show ‘em to your girlfriends or boyfriends if you must, as proof of your guts and battle-worthiness, but don’t get seduced by the need to find some small crumb of a stock compliment as balm.

    That’s what alcohol is for.

    • @Amy:

      I’m inclined to disagree with you — I’ve had a number of rejections in my life, and not all of them were kind. Many were in fact neither kind nor cruel: form letters, as blank and empty of meaning as any vacuum or void.

      But given that most editors go through slush piles and build up a rather thick skin, I still think it means something to get a personal and positive message.

      This is especially true for some of the comments here, where people are getting rejections through an agent, not directly — editors are not inclined to lie to agents, I don’t suspect, as what’s the point? Where’s the value in offering false positivity?

      Further, it is very possible (particularly in the world of novels) to have an editor generally love the story but still not buy it. Just because I love our one dog doesn’t mean I think he’d be commercially viable breeding stock. Quality and marketability are (sadly) not all that intertwined — so, at the very least if they’re calling you out only on marketability, you know you have quality in your corner.

      I’m cynical, but I don’t know if I’m quite *that* cynical. :)

      – c.

  • I used to keep a stack of rejections on my fridge when I was starting out to remind me that eventually I will kick ass and be an amazing writer. I had to discontinue the practice when the magnets could no longer keep it on the fridge.

    Rejections still hurt and can be very demoralizing but I think that like all things, rejections can be temporary. You learn what you can from them and move on.

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