Tag Archives: Rejection


If there is one thing that my penchant for self-help books has taught me, it is that fear does not need to be of the heart-rate-increasing variety. Some fears do not spark your adrenalin or send your skin clammy. In fact some fear does not show itself at all. Why, because it is so ingrained that you know you will never let yourself face it, so your body does not get worried.

One that falls into this category is the fear of failure. Different people are afraid of failing at different things. For writers there are lots of failures we worry about. The story won’t come out on the page as perfectly as it looks in our heads, so we don’t write it. People won’t like the story when we finish writing it, so we don’t show it to anyone. Publishers will tell us that we have no skill and we should quit now, so we don’t submit our story. Academically we know these things probably won’t be issues, but it doesn’t stop the fear from getting in.

A lot of self-help gurus preach that you should do one thing a day that scares you. I think this is actually really good advice. It trains you to a) look for fears and be aware of them, and b) know that you can survive facing them. It is very easy for us to let our sub-conscious mind go about making our decisions so we don’t even know what we are afraid of, keeping us in a little, secure, safety-bubble.

But that won’t help you to become the best that you can be. Facing your fears is how you grow. That is how you learn what you are capable of, and it gets you to stretch beyond the familiar to the possible.

I think my fears have been holding back my submissions this year. I’ve subbed only two things, and one of those got accepted. Not a bad hit rate, but it is a terrible submission rate. So with what is left of the last two months of this year I’m going to face that fear. Let’s see what is possible.

Remember; it is just one opinion

Over a year ago I sent a story in to a magazine and quickly made it through the slush reader rounds to get to the editors. The story was not picked up. They held it for a month longer than they said they would in the hopes that it would fit with one of the themes of the magazine, but alas, it did not quite match with what they published in that quarter.

So when I got my rejection I actually got a note from one of the editors who said that it was very well written and the fact it had got ‘this far’ was an indication of the quality of the story. The editor explained that the only reason they were rejecting it was because they did not like to hold onto stories for more than 3 months.

I put that story through two writers groups who offered small tweaks, but for the most part kept it as it was. The small changes suggested did add to the story, and I thought it was definitely a more polished and tight package as a result.

I sought, and was granted, permission to resubmit the story. Having previously been told ‘it is with regret that I let this story go’ by the editor of the magazine, I wasn’t expecting much grief from the slush readers, so imagine my surprise when I was knocked out in the first round just a few days after I submitted the story.

From all the feedback I have got on this story I know it is succinct, humorous and entertaining, but even in my writers groups (in both instances) there was one person who just didn’t like it. They couldn’t exactly say why, but they “just didn’t like it.”

I guess my allocated slush reader was one such person. It shows you, particularly in the world of slush, that just one opinion can make the difference between getting picked up and getting rejected. When it is just one person who sees your story, it is just one opinion that comes into play, so we need to remember that.

I won’t take this rejection to heart because I know that a lot of other people have enjoyed this story. Just as easily, one day in the future, a different opinion may see this story being published.

I need to keep this in mind for all my rejections!

Nearly eight months

That’s how long it just took for one of my stories to be rejected. I had actually assumed it was rejected three months ago when I had  not heard from them within their rough guide of when they would be making their decision, so it was not with disappointment that I received this email, but surprise.

It was a form letter rejection, so I’m not sure if my story got close to being picked or if it was just lost in the back-log for all that time. The thing that did really surprise me was the invitation to submit again next year. Forgive me if I sound bitter, and I do appreciate that in the scheme of things in the writing world I am at the bottom of the food chain (and I’m okay with that), but waiting nearly eight months to reject a piece of flash fiction, in a flash fiction anthology where most of the stories submitted are around 1,000 words is just too long!

The disappointing thing is that I know a lot of the people who put these anthologies together are writers themselves, so surely they know the disappointment you feel when you have had a story locked up for nearly a year while someone makes a decision about it. Even if they sent a generic update email at the four-month mark I’d not be quite so miffed.

It makes it very hard to write a ‘cutting-edge’ piece of science fiction, because if the first person you sub it to doesn’t take it, then it is old hat by the time it gets sent to the second potential publishing opportunity.

I know there is no solution. This is just how it is. It really is no wonder that people are turning more and more to self-publishing as a first option for their work. I’m not there yet, but I do not hold it against those who do choose that path.  

Yes, I guess it turns out I am a bit bitter 🙂 and I must concede that it could be something about that particular story, because the last place held onto it for over a year before they rejected it.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Ugh.

Rejecting rejection?

I’ve been a bit prone to the feel-sorry-for-myself’s recently. While I’m all for a little wallowing in misery, there does come a point when you just start to annoy yourself with the indulgence. I think I’ve got to that point now.

I got the triple-pack of rejections over the past fortnight, and two were for stories I really like. Usually when these two get rejected (ugh, I can say usually) I get personal feedback about which parts the editor liked, and why it is not quite right for their line-up. These most recent rejections were the stock standard ‘dear author’ generic single-sentence replies, so my joie de vivre took a bit of a beating.

As always happens in the minutes following, I spiralled into the ‘why am I doing this’ and let’s not forget; ‘I’m going to give up on this whole writing malarkey.’ But the moment I thought about quitting writing every instinct within me rebelled. I need to write, if I don’t I get grumpy, not to mention that writing is the only way to exorcise my mind of all those ghosts of stories not yet written.

So really this rejection triple has made me realise I’m not questioning the purpose in writing, but in sending it out to publishers. For now I’ll going to keep sending, while I’m still undecided, but don’t be surprised if in the future, especially if the stories start to pour out like some have recently, I might just post them on line (after peer review and editing) and let the world ignore, love or hate them at their own whim. For me writing is about getting read, and how that happens really isn’t of great concern.

Now I’m stamping out the feel-sorry-for-myself’s, I’ve reworked the rejected babies and am sending them on their way. I’m also starting the three stories that have only got as far as a few jotted notes over the past couple of weeks. Being a writer is about writing, not necessarily about being published. I know millions would argue against me, but I think we all need to find our own path, and more and more I’m thinking this is mine.

The dark mask of the internet

Dark mask of the internet

Have you ever noticed how even the most mild mannered person can turn into a screaming lunatic when you get them behind the wheel of a car? Well it seems the internet is having a similar effect on people.

Recently I have come across some nasty instances of cyber bullying or harsh judgemental attacks, and I refuse to believe that there are really that many rude people out there. I think the relative anonymity afforded by the internet comments and rating systems gives people free rein to let out all their personal frustrations on others who are simply sharing their art or feelings.

Kirstyn McDermott said it beautifully in her blog post about a girl who (possibly naively, possibly as a marketing stunt) had a go at someone for giving her book a ‘bad’ review. The personal attacks she has suffered are completely out of proportion to what she did and her Amazon rating has been trashed.

Rebecca Black released a song with rather silly lyrics called ‘Friday’ and as a result she has been subjected to abuse and death threats, death threats! But it doesn’t even need to be that extreme, just read the comments at the bottom of any of the Woman’s Day True Confessions and you will see people condemning others based on a 500 word write up of what is usually a very complicated and painful situation.   

It is heartening to see that in all these cases you also see other anonymous warriors in the comments line-up defending these people, but it is sad that it only takes such little things to fire people up to the point where this defence is needed. Criticism is just a form of opinion, which by definition can be neither right nor wrong, so it should be offered as such.

I remember not so long ago a song was released that made me want to rip my own ears off each time I heard it, I won’t tell you what it was, but it involved a frog whose sanity was in question. Did I threaten the producers of the ‘song’, did I send hate mail? No, I turned it off if it came on the radio, and I certainly didn’t buy it so I could give it a bad rating. I also, grudgingly, acknowledged that for some people it was not a torture to listen to it, so perhaps it did have a place in the world. Just not my world.

So far I’ve been lucky enough not to be subject to this sort of attack, but unfortunately it seems that anyone who puts themselves out there for long enough will eventually suffer this fate. Some even call it a sign of success. I would ask you though, next time you are so fired up to want to leave a critical comment somewhere, just think about how you would say it if you were talking to their face? Perhaps if we all did this then comments would be more about how to fix problems rather than pointing out perceived errors and the assumed character flaws that led to them.  

Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now!


The rollercoaster of rejection

Each time I get that reply email in my inbox; RE: Submission; story title goes here, my heart skips a beat. My email does not give me a little preview of what the body of text says, so for a moment it can go either way. Is it an acceptance, or a rejection? I won’t know until I open it.

As you can imagine more often it is the ‘we enjoyed reading your story, but felt it was not right for our publication’ version of email rather than the ‘we loved your story and we want to publish it’ type, but for every sub there is a moment where in my heart it has been accepted. Especially when the email is about a novel.

A perverse part of me enjoys that moment, and I have been known to put off opening the email so I can draw out the feeling a little bit longer. When I open it and get the bad news of rejection I used to feel hurt, but I’ve found a great way of getting over that is to have my next market picked out so that I can quickly crush the pain of rejection with the hope of a new submission (after re-reading the story, of course, to ensure I am still actually happy with it, it might be getting rejected for a reason).

Then there is the other side of rejection which is not so exciting, and that’s no response at all. If the market listing says they don’t respond but consider it rejected if they haven’t responded within a certain time frame, I’ll put a note in my submissions tracking spreadsheet so the date is flagged, then I take that as a rejection. But there are some places that just say nothing and give no hints about what they are thinking.

This is a bad position to be in. Do they like it and they are just finding the right time/place to publish it? Have they lost it? Was there a change in staff? Did they lose my contact details? Or have they dismissed it and just cheated me of the few seconds of hope with the response email?

Unfortunately this is all part of the process, and you need to have a plan. Mine is simple, for a short story; after three months query (unless their market listing says not to). If they don’t respond to the query, after six months consider it rejected (you may want to start sending it to other markets before you get to six months). I’ve never had a story accepted after six months with no contact from the publisher beforehand, so I think it is a safe to assume they don’t want it. For a novel I do the same, but query after six months, reject after twelve.

There is nothing wrong with being rejected, and generally you get a very generic rejection email, so you can come up with all your own excuses (didn’t fit in with the existing line-up, they already had a story with a similar theme, wasn’t genre enough etc.). But once you have had a story rejected a few times you would be wise to take a closer look at it, or give it to someone else to read and give you some hints as to why it was rejected.

Remember, each rejection is one step closer to that story’s acceptance! And I promise, even your favourite author has had good work rejected. Don’t let it get you down!

Happy writing,


To love a thief

Not long ago I put out a call to a bunch of friends asking for their favourite books. I wanted something un-put-down-able. I needed both distraction and inspiration (ie I was looking for further procrastination and ultimately its cure with regard to my own writing). It was a great success, and I got a heap of suggestions which I am slowly working my way through.

Now without giving away what I have read, so far I have been amazed by the difference in my reaction to these much-loved books of my friends. One I enjoyed in parts, one was as much fun as a visit to the dentist, and one I devoured, not wanting to put it down when the clock rolled around to midnight and I had to be up by 7 the next morning.

This got me thinking about the different aspects to a novel and how unique combinations make the perfect mix for each of us. It might be the story itself which grabs you, or the characters, the writing style, the moral, the originality or one of a million other things within the book. None of us are exactly alike, and probably what is going on in our lives when we first read the novel also plays a part, so even we are not a constant. There cannot be a perfect book!

I’m going to keep this in mind when I get my next rejection. An editor needs to love your story to print it, and if among my own friends (where we have similar interests and experiences) we have such differences in opinion about what is good, then I should keep faith that soon I will find the editor who shares my mix of ‘what makes a good story’ and will pick up my manuscript.  

For the record, the book I always recommend is Markus Zusak’s novel The Book Thief which isn’t really even spec fic. For me it was a beautiful novel which got the mix just right, well my mix anyway.

Happy reading.

Didn’t life get the script?

I have to confess I’ve been feeling a little despondent this week. After nearly 10,000 impressions (displays of my Paragon ad) I’ve received exactly zero click-throughs. I also know everyone who voted for my story in the Trading post competition (not the intention, my comic genius was meant to shine through so the public would hand over their vote, catapulting me to the top 5) and exactly none of my share-a-secret stories have been picked up by the women’s magazines.

Things are not sticking to my script.  

March is a significant month for me; it is the end of my six months off. My search for work has begun and the urgency was *meant* to be offset by the burgeoning success of my writing career. I was meant to be getting some income by now, or so it went in the script. Reality is turning out quite differently.  

A great philosopher (I think it was Calvin –form Calvin and Hobbes) once said; [we all think we are the lead character in the movie of our life, but one day we realise we are just the comic relief in a much bigger story].

Has that day come? Have I realised that perhaps there is no happy ending?

Not a chance! I’m a writer, and by definition we are dreamers in one way or other. I will look at this as just another bump that I have to overcome. Attitude is 90% of success, I’m sure, so as long as I don’t let myself wallow for too long (but give myself at least a few days, there is nothing as cathartic as a good wallow now and then) I’m sure I’ll get back on track soon.

So if you are down about something that is not working out as you planned, don’t listen to Calvin, you are the star of your own movie. Whatever is happening is just another plot twist to make the punch line that much more exciting.


Why self-publish?

The first draft of Paragon was finished in 1994, a rushed effort before I moved to Brisbane to become an air traffic controller (the first in a long line of false starts in careers). Since then I have re-written the novel ten times. Ten!

As you can imagine, in that time I sent Paragon off to a lot of ‘real’ publishing houses, and have many rejection letters to show for it. I must confess I also made the classic mistake of sending out the first draft, which I will never do again. But that’s another story.

Was it the fact that I had a finished novel for 16 years and was never able to place it that led me to self-publish? No. It was the change in my rejection letters in recent years that led to this decision. I went from form letters (generic ‘dear author’ types) to specific ‘good’ rejections. These referred to character names and other details, indicating that the manuscript had actually been read. This, coupled with the fact that it took between 9-18 months for the publishers to reject the novel made me decide that it was time to put it out there myself.

So what is a ‘good’ rejection? Here are some actual quotes from three of my most recent rejections (which took 9, 12 and 18 months to come back to me) so you can see what I class as a good rejection:

“Thank you for sending this memorable manuscript…”
“It’s a difficult one to reject. You are obviously a talented writer who knows how to pace an intriguing story.”
“It’s an intriguing premise and you are clearly an imaginative storyteller…”

Yes, they are from the REJECTION letters. I can only begin to imagine how nice the acceptance letters must be! The other nice thing is that these comments came from YA Editors, not their assistants.

Hopefully one day soon I’ll be able to tell you what they say when they send you an acceptance letter. Maybe 2011 will be the year? 🙂

Happy New Year!


The writing blues

I wanted to write this entry when I was not actually suffering from the writing blues, because I didn’t want to be a miserable sad-sack, as there is too much of that sort of thing on the net already. So today I’m feeling sufficiently neutral to give it a go.

The writing blues can sneak up on you, usually when a chapter or story is not working, and you know it’s not working, but you have no idea about how to fix it. Or you can get a gut-punch of sudden depression, usually brought on by a spate of rejections (or just one really nasty one) and you feel like you have made a giant mistake pursuing this whole writing thing.

The only advice I can give you for when a case of the woe-is-me-I-can’t-write-to-save-myself hits is that it is completely normal. Not only do we ALL go through it, but we all claw our way out of it at the end, and sometimes it takes a lot of work to do so. The key is to not let your blues stop you from writing! That won’t help anyone and is more likely to make you feel worse, not better.

Humans love a bit of drama, and this is a very survivable one, so allow yourself to wallow a little –just for the masochistic pleasure of it. But set a time limit, preferably less than fifteen minutes, and once you reach it put the worries out of your head and sit down and start writing. That is what makes you a writer.

There is no better cure for the self-doubt than the salve of words on a page. I know what you are thinking; this is all very easy to say when I’m not in the cold grip of the writing blues, but the truth is that several previous posts have been written at exactly such times, and by the end of them, I’m ready to move on and get back to work. So don’t let the blues get you down, fight them with words instead.

Happy writing,