Flashback: Rejection Reflection

When you see “Flashback” in front of an article, it means it is an article that originally appeared on Word Museum in the beginning before it was sold and then regained by Lori. We have reposted these articles, because we feel they add great value to the site. Where possible we include the date of the original article.

Written By: Rusty Fischer
Date: 08/25/2001


Ah, rejection. Ain’t it grand? Be it form letter or personal nitpicking from some grouchy editor with an axe to grind (right in your back!), there’s nothing quite like coming home after a long day of work to see your pleasantly addressed SASE from some Big Name Publisher, only to open it up to hear those famous words: “Dear Writer, While we have given your story/book/proposal careful consideration we regret that yada yada . . .”

But don’t let rejection letters get you down. Instead, turn them around to put a positive spin on your freelance writing career! Here’s how: READ BETWEEN THE LINES Every publisher handles rejection letters differently. Some print off reams of colored paper to print them on, then cut them into halves or even fourths for more rejections per sheet.

Others have a form business letter which appears personalized, if only because they’ve bothered to type your name above the same rejection they sent another thousand writers that day. Others, though these are few and far between, send out personal messages that are actually, gasp, signed! No matter what type of rejection letter you get, resist the temptation to curl it up into a ball, set it on fire, and toss it in the circular file. Mine it for information first, and read between the lines. For instance, is there anything encouraging about the wording at all. As mentioned, many publishers send out color-coded rejection slips. This is not just because they have some extra time on their hands and were feeling perky. Instead, this is a carefully thought-out system that allows editors to keep track of what they’re rejecting and why, such as blue for “don’t call us, we’ll call you,” pink for “this didn’t work, but please feel free to send us anything new” and yellow for “this was great, but we just published something exactly like it: keep trying!” Unless you get the blue one, this is a good thing. Believe it or not, the publisher is encouraging you. Take this at face value and go back to where you found out about the publisher in the first place and do some more research. What did they just publish? What do they specialize in? Write something new, or rewrite something old, and give it a second chance. After all, they practically begged you to!


The most important thing you can glean from a rejection letter, despite a little encouragement, that is, is a name. Names are valuable currency in the publishing industry, and with the fast-paced world of mergers and acquisitions, names are constantly changing. This is why Writer’s Digest and Writer’s Market always suggest that you call a publisher first to get the current name of the editor you’re pitching. However, even this isn’t always accurate. Finding a helpful phone voice at a publisher is a little like finding a helpful sales clerk at a gas station, at two in the morning, on Christmas! In other words, it’s not very likely, and you could just get the wrong information in order to get you off the phone quicker. On the other hand, an editor’s name on a rejection is pretty current. So hold onto it, and address all further correspondence to that publisher to that name. In the highly-competitive world of publishing, it’s little things like getting your submission on the proper editor’s desk that make the difference between the slush pile, and the really BIG slush pile.


Of course, in these modern times, e-mail query letters are becoming more and more common. As postage prices rise and all of us become more aware of the damage we are doing to our environment by cutting down trees, e-mail is quickly becoming an accepted form of communication between writers and editors. Not everywhere, but enough places to keep you busy if you stay logged on long enough! Of course, for many writers, this just means that you start getting those rejections even faster than before! But hold on. That’s not always a bad thing. After all, at least you didn’t have to hold onto that story, article or book for months while you submitted to that editor who doesn’t allow simultaneous submissions. Now you at least know about it in a fraction of the time, and can get that manuscript out there even faster. Furthermore, most e-mail software allows for a generous address book, which means you can add those editorial e-mails quicker than ever. Begin a virtual file folder for each and every one, and refer to it frequently. To make the file fatter, e-mail yourself a quick description of the publisher who rejected you, such as what they specialize in, what you sent them, when you sent it, etc. Now you’ve got a few fast facts on file each time you want to submit something new to them. Another nice feature of e-mail rejections, if there is such a thing, is that they are quite often handled by younger, newbie assistant editors or even editorial assistants. Since these folks are still sensitive to writers’ feelings, they often send back a personal, albeit short, reply, signed with, treasure of all treasures, a name. This makes a valuable selling point when you finally have something to send back to them. Use it!


Rejections are a great inspiration for writing. So why not write an article on—rejection? Sure, there are plenty out there, but editors are always thinking up new ways to insult writers, why not collect your best ones and compose a quick, 750-word, Net friendly article to contribute to online writing zines, Web sites and e-mail newsletters? Post it on Themestream or e-mail it to your friends to let them know the agony you suffer on a weekly basis. If your article gets accepted, let alone purchased, you’ve just made rejection a positive thing, and that’s no easy feat! So congratulate yourself, and enjoy the notoriety. Who knows? Some big editor could see it on the Net, and contact you with an offer!

Rusty Fischer is the author of BEYOND THE BOOKSTORE.

Lori Soard started Word Museum in 1997. She’s a published author and has written thousands of articles over the years for newspapers, magazines and online. She has a PhD in Journalism and lives in Southern Indiana with her husband. They have two grown daughters, both animal lovers their house is always filled with pets.

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