Rejection letters are a popular topic to discuss amongst writers. So many aspects to cover—how to cope with them, what they mean, what to do with them, which room to wallpaper with them… They can drive you crazy!
When I first started writing–no, submitting–a wise writer at an SCBWI conference (whose name escapes me) said, “There are different kinds of rejections.” She further explained that moving up the ‘rejection ladder’ is a good thing. My husband says I’m nuts for being happy over a rejection letter. Well, first off, I’m never happy to get a rejection letter. Period. But certain letters do initiate a feeling of encouragement in me. And that’s what I look for. Is there something in that letter that I can gain (something for the next submission or something as simple as feeling encouraged about my work). What is the positive aspect of that letter? How can it help me?
Here’s what I’ve learned about rejection letters (what I prefer to call “letters of decline”) in climbing the rejection ladder:
1) Bottom rung: A form letter. Usually comes on a piece of paper so small that you wonder why they even bothered (although I applaud their efforts in saving paper and helping the environment). Not much to learn from here, except that if you accumulate a few of these for the same body of work, you need to go back, seriously review your work, and revise.
2) 2nd rung: Form letter with your name inserted. The positive aspect: They got your name right and you know it was indeed your ms they passed on. Same as above: if you get a lot of these on the same material, seriously review and revise. Seriously.
3) 3rd rung: Form letter with a handwritten word or two scribbled somewhere on the page, such as “Nice work” or “Not quite.” Positive aspect: A busy editor took the time to give you some encouragement. You’re doing something right!
4) 4th rung: Typed letter that includes a specific reference to your ms, such as, “Thank you for considering us for THE ABCS OF DESERT ANIMALS.” The letter might even have comments such as, “While your descriptions of the desert are quite lovely…” Positive aspect: This editor took the time to give you comments. Your work has something that piqued his/her interest. Advice: Put the letter away for a week or so, then go back and read it again. Try to understand what he/she meant (this can be tough with phrases like, “Too slight” or “A sense of disconnect.”
5) 5th rung: A personal letter that includes specific suggestions for improving your work. Positive aspect: This editor liked your work but for some reason had to decline it. As in #4 above, put away, go back later, and re-read (when you’re less emotional about it).
6) 6th rung: A personal letter with revision suggestions and a request to see your work after the revisions. Positive aspect: You have his/her attention. THIS IS GOLD! Take your time to do the revisions. Don’t rush. Editors expect you to take your time in making revisions.
7) 7th rung: An acceptance letter. An acceptance usually comes in the form of a phone call, but occasionally it comes via a letter. Congratulations! Only 1% of the thousands of annual submissions receive a personal response from an editor, and of those responses, only 1% are acceptances, so this is a fantastic accomplishment.
So there you have it. My take on the rejection ladder. And you might wonder which room I wallpaper with my many, many, many rejections (see photo). I don’t. I put them in a folder (by year) labeled, “Learning Experiences.”