Home > Editor Essays > Rejection is Good for the Soul
By Jane Campbell
rejected1I spend a lot of time thinking about rejection letters, probably because I’m in the unenviable position of both sending and receiving them. I had hoped that my experience working at a magazine would inure me to the pain of rejection. After all, I now know as well as anyone how difficult it is to get published in a literary magazine and how many external factors influence an editor’s decision. For example, sometimes I’m not able to take a story I love because we don’t have room for it or because the subject matter doesn’t fit with the rest of our issue.Here’s the problem: Even though I know I shouldn’t take rejection personally, I still do. Being rejected sucks. Especially for writers, who tend to be both emotionally precious and ego-driven.

So here’s my advice about rejection: Do take it personally. Get angry! Use that anger as fuel to keep writing. Every time you get a rejection letter think to yourself: One day the editor who sent me this rejection letter will see that I’ve won [insert dream literary award of your choice], and that knowledge will totally ruin her day, just like her rejection letter totally ruined mine!

Successful writers aren’t necessarily the best writers, they’re the writers who never give up. Rejection happens at every stage of a writer’s career. You graduate from literary magazine rejection to literary agency rejection to publisher rejection. Think of every rejection letter you get as practice for the rest of your life! Welcome to being a writer!

All that said, here a few facts about rejection that might lessen the blow, just a tad:

Sometimes we make mistakes: PRISM has rejected stories that went on to become finalists for the Journey Prize. We’ve rejected stories that ended up in acclaimed published anthologies. We’ve probably blown our chance to be the first magazine to publish the work of an author who went on to become extremely successful at least hundred times. Maybe we just have horrible taste, but I imagine this is true of all literary magazines. So we could be wrong, your story could be brilliant. Or it could bad, which is okay because…

Even amazing writers write bad stories, especially when they’re starting out: When I first started writing, I imagined that the best writers emerged from their mothers’ wombs producing immaculate prose. I also imagined that since I was clearly a literary prodigy as soon as I started sending my work out editors would recognize my genius and forward my work straight to the Pulitzer Committee. This didn’t happen! It doesn’t really happen to anyone (Okay, it happens to a few people, but let’s not think about them too much). If your story gets rejected, even if gets rejected by dozens of publications, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to succeed as a writer.

We don’t hold it against you: Every time you submit you start with a clean slate. The fact we’ve rejected a piece of yours in the past doesn’t make us any less likely to publish a piece by you in the future.

It makes me sad to send rejection letters: I know, they feel cold and impersonal. You poured your heart and soul into a story and all you got back was a lame form email. But every time I send a rejection letter, I know I’m making someone’s day a little worse and that makes me a little sad. Sometimes though, I get to send an acceptance letter, which makes someone’s day a whole hell of a lot better. Keep sending in submissions, and one day that person could be you!

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