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A few weeks ago we asked our readers to submit their true stories about making submissions, and we were thrilled that forty-six writers took time out of their busy schedules to share their tales of hardship and success with us! You can find all of the original stories right here.
Though it was difficult to choose favorites, we hope you’ll enjoying reading the stories that struck a chord with all of us here at Writer’s Relief. If you’ve ever felt lonely and forlorn when sending your writing out into the unknown, then these stories will make you laugh, scratch your head, commiserate, and maybe—just maybe—help you feel better knowing you’re not alone.
Read to the bottom to discover our FAVORITE story and the winner of our book The Happy Writer.
Genevieve Riggs Williams tells us about expectations of rejection (and the blessing of having people who support our efforts).
I wanted to be alone as I opened the envelope from the magazine publisher to whom I had recently submitted a story. I tore it open and immediately burst into tears.
My husband must have heard the outburst and came rushing in to comfort me. He put his arms around me and said, “I’m so sorry. They’ll accept one someday.”
I smiled through my tears as I said, “It’s a check.”
My first actual payment for a piece I had written. Tears of joy.
Seventeen-year-old Hanne Arts shares a story that shows not everyone in the publishing industry is a) nice or b) qualified—so it’s good to let the bad stuff roll of your back!
Several months ago I received the most unexpected rejection email ever. Without having yet sent in my work. Yes, you read that right. I had not even given them a synopsis.
Before submitting my work, I wanted to make sure my story would find a home with a good and reliable publishing company, which is why I sent in several preliminary questions. Mostly just about basic things, like rights and distribution. Well, I was flabbergasted when I found this in my inbox soon after:
Thank you for your interest in publishing with AP. Your project is not a good fit for [our] current needs.
So, naturally, I replied, completely confused but willing to clear up this fogginess. I politely asked why my work had been rejected, as I had not yet sent in any information on the story, nor had I provided a sample. I received an incredibly odd email in return, being told that my questions were “insalting.” Not only was this reply rude and the spelling horrific, it was not made up of more than a single sentence, having no salutation or closing.
I wrote back a long email, explaining to the company that I am only seventeen years old and just embarking on the publishing journey. If I had indeed insulted them, I was sorry, and I explained how I naturally was not yet as knowledgeable on the subject as she was. It was a long and apologetic email, and I received back a single sentence answer:
Stop quering [sic] you received a rejection letter.
The spelling, grammar, and brevity say it all. Well, I was happy I had done some preliminary questioning before sending off my work!
Jacqui Landry shows us how to accept criticism with a sense of humor.
I’ve received the usual, unhelpful form rejections from over 100 agents when counting all my novel submissions combined. The only one I ever received that was even remotely personal was from an agent in NYC who told me, “Your main character has so much baggage he clanks when he walks.”
Said character was a recovering alcoholic, but otherwise a successful Navy attorney. Apparently, this agent is unfamiliar with complex characters who happen to be three-dimensional.
I subsequently gained representation for another novel—that had also made the rejection rounds. However, this particular rejection is a gem I pull out when I need a laugh.
Amanda Oliver’s experience wins the award for overkill rejection; we love her spirit and drive!
Two years ago I applied to creative writing MFA programs. I was three years into a career with a degree in library science and miserable with how little time I had to write. When I applied, my writing was rusty at best. I also couldn’t decide whether I should apply to fiction, poetry, or nonfiction programs. For reasons I still can’t comprehend, I applied to fiction, having only written poetry and nonfiction in recent years. I was bold and confident without much to back it up. My references were strong, but my stories were sloppily put together. I applied to four schools and considered one of them my “backup” school.
Not surprising to me now, but shocking to me then, I was rejected by all four schools. I received a rejection letter from my backup school last. I was disheartened, a bit embarrassed, and definitely put in my place. Just as I was coming up from the defeat, a second rejection letter from my safety school came in. Feeling like this was another wound to my ego, I assured myself it was an unfortunate filing mistake. Two weeks later, a third rejection letter came.
I’m not sure what happened to earn me three rejection letters from one school, but it was the periodic reminder I needed during that time to teach me to be humble and work hard. Whenever I need that reminder, I pull out one of those three letters.
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John M. McNamara’s tale teaches us that even rejection letters can be worth celebrating, if you’ve got the right attitude.
This occurred many years ago, when my only goal was getting just one short story accepted and published by any magazine. In those days everything was conducted through snail mail. You sent a copy of the manuscript to an editor with a self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE) included, so that your pages could be returned if (and usually when) they rejected it. Which editors so often did, with a stock, preprinted rejection slip that gave no clue as to why the story didn’t pass muster.
I must have accrued dozens, perhaps even a hundred, of these slips, before one day receiving the dreaded SASE with my manuscript inside. But when I opened it, to my joyous surprise, the editor had jotted a few observations on the form rejection slip, praising sections of my story and encouraging me to submit other work in the future. Oh, happy days! A handwritten rejection notice!
My writing friends and I retired to a local pub that night and toasted my success until the bar closed. As an aside…I reworked that story and submitted it another literary magazine later. It was accepted for publication! Perseverance and arduous, calculating, unemotional rewriting works!
Helen Colella’s story about “hitting the jackpot” is a great lesson in reading acceptance letters slowly!
The first bit of writing advice I received were these three words, “Write. Submit. Persevere.” I did that along with editing, rewriting, market research, and coping with the rejections that came via snail mail.
One day, my walk to the mailbox yielded yet another envelope from a magazine editor at The Young Crusader (now defunct). I had become so used to not selling. I learned to control my emotions. No excitement. No anticipation. No expectancy. I just opened the letter in a matter-of-fact way and began to read.
My 900ish-word article: “Stop, Look and Listen! Hidden Winter Hazards” had been accepted for publication and payment was enclosed. I looked at the check and saw $300. WOW! I hit the jackpot! This was more than any other sale I had made to date, which usually averaged $25.
My excitement exploded. I viewed this as a stepping-stone and anticipated more of the same would follow! No, I expected it to be so! Who wouldn’t? After all, this was the writing coup of my new career… I believed I was on my way to becoming a publishing phenomenon.
After I recomposed myself a few minutes later, I reread the letter. I smiled so hard you could hear it. I reexamined the check and gasped. All I did was stare at the small rectangular piece of paper. “Oh, no!” I shouted.
It seems in my giddiness, I read the payment wrong; $300 wasn’t to be found anywhere, but $3.00 was. I just didn’t see the decimal. UGH!
A financial letdown…perhaps. I didn’t hit the jackpot, and maybe never would, but I acquired another writing credit, another step to building my writing resume, and that wasn’t so bad after all.
And congratulations to Ken McClelland, whose entry both makes us laugh and inspires us (plus, it is well-written!). Ken, please be in touch with us for your free copy of our book The Happy Writer. Congratulations and good luck!
So you want to hear from people about their real life experiences submitting their writings? Well, let me say plainly that so far the only one who’s accepted my manuscripts has been the mailman. It’s not that my manuscripts don’t reach the publishers, I imagine some have, it’s just that I never hear back from them unless it’s to tell me to quit bothering them, and to let me know that “a copy of the restraining order will be forthcoming.”
Undaunted, I’m pretty sure that I could be a great writer someday, and my wife’s been encouraging me with her assurances that the only thing that I’m lacking is talent. However, once I overcome that obstacle, you’ll probably be seeing my books on the bookstore shelves, or the thrift-store shelves—we’ll have to wait and see how that vanity publishing turns out.
Thank you for allowing me to tell my side of the submission process… And any day now, I expect to hear from my mailman with news that he’s ready to buy one of my books ;-}.
We want to extend our very sincere thanks to all of the writers who so generously shared their stories on our blog. It was a pleasure reading them all! We’re cheering for you and wishing you the best of luck with your submissions!
The Team at Writer’s Relief
Photo by miuenski