On rejection


The problem with not submitting your work to magazines and contests is that there’s no feedback, no way to ever gauge how well you’re doing, if you’re hitting your mark or you’re way off base.  And the problem with submitting your work to magazines and contests is, obviously, that there’s feedback.

Rejection isn’t horrible.  I do think it helps to develop a thick skin as a writer.  It’s not just a thick skin, it’s an understanding of how hit-or-miss the publication process can be.    Sometimes it’s the story, sometimes it’s the market, sometimes it’s both.  The question is always how to take a particular rejection.  Usually I feel a little disappointment (because it’s still a rejection, and who wants that?), but I figure I’ll find a market for the piece, or else maybe I’ll just have to rework it to make it better.

Heard back from two markets this week.  One for “Ghosts,” which I knew was a tough sell.  Just a little too cold and cerebral and weird, all at the same time, and maybe not in a great, innovative way.  Anyway it wasn’t a surprise to get a rejection.  (Updated to say that I’ve rewritten much of it, and it’s less cold, but still weird.)

But I love “Wild Pitch.”  One of those stories that I just irrationally assume will be loved by anyone else, too, so the rejection came with more disappointment.  There’s a lesson in there for me, but I’m not sure what it is.  Obviously it’s “Don’t take it personally,” but for a writer there’s no other way to take it — you are what you write.

Maybe it’s just to not get too high with the successes or too low with the failures.  Be unforgiving when you look at your work, but don’t lose confidence in your own judgement about it either.  Easy to say, hard to do.

So the real downside of sending things out to be judged like this is just that I have so many more opportunities to question things. Not just a particular story but my overall ability.  If you hide away and write a novel and never let anyone read it, you can sustain your self-confidence indefinitely, even if that confidence is unreasonable.

Some balance there is necessary, then.  Keep sending things out, but don’t be promiscuous about it.  Don’t rush to submit.  Don’t send things out indiscriminately (as I sometimes do).  Then you won’t have as many rejections, or as many chances to question yourself.  And hopefully more success, too.

About the author

Tom Howard

Tom Howard is the author of Fierce Pretty Things (Indiana University Press, 2019).

He received his MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Fierce Pretty Things won the 2018 Blue Light Books Fiction Prize, and his individual stories have won the Ninth Letter Literary Award in Fiction, the Indiana Review Fiction Prize, the Robert and Adele Schiff Award for Fiction, the Carve Magazine Prose & Poetry Contest, the Tobias Wolff Award in Fiction, the Innovative Short Fiction Prize, the Willow Springs Ficiton Prize, the Rash Award in Fiction, and the Robert J. DeMott Award for Short Prose.

He lives with his wife in Arlington, Virginia.

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By Tom Howard


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