Rejections: Badges of Honor

Every time I receive a rejection from a literary journal I tell myself  “It’s a badge of honor. ”  Sometimes I even do a happy dance and shout out a little whoot whoot, you know, as if it were something to celebrate.  And in a way it really is.  When my work is rejected, that means I have submitted my work; I’ve tried to get it out there in the world.  For someone who in the past spent a lot of time not just not doing, but not even trying, it’s important for me to give myself credit for trying.

I tell myself that rejection is not personal, it may just be the editor or slush pile reader has a different aesthetic than I do.

When I worked at Blue Mesa Review (as managing editor one semester, and often as a volunteer reader of slush, currently as web editor which reminds me I have some work to do on the site) we rejected a lot of good work.  Sometimes a piece just didn’t get enough “yes” votes to make it to the discussion round.  Sometimes a good piece would make it to discussion and it wouldn’t have enough support to make it into print.  Sometimes a piece was too long, or too short, or not deep enough or too experimental, and even if we loved the prose style and the character and setting maybe the character didn’t change enough.  Sometimes the piece just didn’t fit in with what we’d already selected.  It’s hard to say, it’s like some secret algorithm that no one can decipher.

I tell myself a lot of things that are cliche:

  • That I should pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again
  • If at first I don’t succeed I must try try again
  • Rejection is the opportunity to start over
  • Success come to those who persist
  • It’s like the lottery, I gotta play to win


I remind myself that many other authors have been rejected many times, relishing tales of now famous writers and the rejections they received– writers like Stephen King,  William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Ursula LeGuin, Gertrude Stein, to name a few.  I remember a reading by Elizabeth Gilbert; she said it was not her job to pre-reject herself, she figured that  someone at the New Yorker was paid to do the rejecting.  It’s not that I celebrate the failure of others, it’s that it encourages to me to know that rejection didn’t  mean failure, it didn’t mean their writing wasn’t/isn’t good.  And maybe the same is true for me.

I know all this when I send out my work. I understand that it’s part of the deal, it’s what I signed up for when I decided to call myself writer.  And still, sometimes it stings to get a rejection.

But when all is said and done, what I cling to is the knowledge that:

I write for myself first, because even if sometimes I cry or grumble or get angry when I write, I enjoy it, I need it.

What I have to say is important.


4 thoughts on “Rejections: Badges of Honor

  1. I love this! I feel the same way–it’s so hard to get rejections. Just this morning I joined your fine company, and this one really did sting because somehow I’d let myself think I was close. When I used to sell my photography at art fairs, I can’t tell you how many times potential customers would come in, browse, commend me on my work, and leave without buying a thing. As frustrating as it was, it taught me that sometimes these editors really DO like our work, they just don’t have room for it, or it doesn’t fit with the other work already slated for publication–a thousand reasons, probably. We just don’t get to see that side of it, even less now that most everything’s electronic and handwritten notes are rare. I try to remember this, but it’s hard!


  2. thanks Janet! for reading and commenting! now I’m feeling guilty about rarely buying at craft fairs (usually I’m broke).

    Even though it’s all electronic, I did get a personalized rejection from Pank.


  3. Jenn,

    Thanks for posting this. As someone who fears that rejection means I should go back to the kitchen like a good girl, I find your willingness to go into this morass inspiring. My experience has shown me that once I face my fear (by getting a rejection, for example), it shrinks into its proper size.

    Okay, I’ll take a leap here — I will start submitting my work. Thanks oh brave one.


  4. Thanks for this – “I remember a reading by Elizabeth Gilbert; she said it was not her job to pre-reject herself, she figured that someone at the New Yorker was paid to do the rejecting.” It’s a good reminder, not only that I’m the writer, not the reject-er, but that sometimes, in the face of piles of submissions, the job must be to find ways & reasons to reject, not include.

    Writing is so much more fun than submitting, though. I think it will help with submissions if I just stop trying to figure out where my work “fits,” since so far I keep hearing it doesn’t from all the places I thought it did.


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