'MINE'S BIGGER THAN YOURS...' An Article by Kayleigh Cutforth
I’m referring to the infamous rejection pile of course, and I don’t mean to brag but mine is looking pretty impressive right now...
There’s a ton of articles out there about how to deal with literary rejections, and nearly all say the same kind of bumf…’Give yourself a grieving period.’, ‘Allow yourself to feel sad.’, ‘Acknowledge the pain.’, blah blah blah.
There’s no getting around it, it doesn't matter how long you've been a writer, getting rejected is shit.
Personally, I’m in the D.H. Lawrence camp – renowned for not taking rejection on the chin; here’s what he wrote to Edward Garnett when ‘Sons and Lovers’ was rejected by Heinemann (3 July 1912):
“Curse the blasted, jelly-boned swines, the slimy, the belly-wriggling invertebrates, the miserable sodding rotters, the flaming sods, the sniveling, dribbling, dithering palsied pulse-less lot that make up England today. They’ve got white of egg in their veins, and their spunk is that watery it’s a marvel they can breed. Nothing but frog-spawn — the gibberers! God, how I hate them! God curse them, funkers. God blast them, wish-wash. Exterminate them, slime. I could curse for hours and hours — God help me.”
One hell of a first-line I’m sure you’ll agree. I’m guessing that’s probably how most of us feel when the all too familiar rejection email pops up, at least for a day or two. But why is it so soul-destroying? The answer is probably because it confirms our deepest insecurity as writers, that we aren’t good enough, that our work is sub-standard, that we’re taking up valuable space which we don’t deserve. Enter imposter syndrome.
The question we should probably ask ourselves is why exactly are we writing? If it’s purely for an ego trip then those rejections are going to cut real deep until eventually, we give up, throw in the towel, take the funkers at their word. Finding a healthy emotional distance from our writing is hard especially when we’ve put our heart and soul into it, but it’s crucial for keeping focused.
Recently, I changed my mindset and decided to aim for a healthy rejection pile rather than hankering after acceptances. My reasoning is that each rejection gets me closer to my goal. Each month I try to set a rejection target, which ensures my focus is on getting my work out there and in front of editors (sorry, I mean jelly-boned swines…) rather than pinning all my hopes on the holy grail every time. I’d like to say it’s taken all the emotion out of the process, but I’d be lying…its still crap getting rejected but it takes the edge off!
Secondly, I remind myself regularly that editors are simply critiquing the words in front of them, not me individually. They have little knowledge of my personal journey, just like I don’t know the authors I critique daily. These rejections really are as impersonal as it gets. The old cliche of ‘not taking it personally’ is pretty apt here, though honestly, manners are cheap, and some rejection notes are (to put it politely): unnecessarily blunt.
Thirdly, I’ve accepted that not everyone needs to love my work – it only takes one editor to really get it, and finding ‘the one’ is the actual goal of all of this. Perhaps the best journal for a piece of writing doesn’t even exist yet! It often takes time, years even, to find the right home for something…and even the very best writers had to endure the waiting. Look at this stellar bunch of rejectees:
William Golding (Lord of the Flies) – rejected 20 times
William Saroyan (Pulitzer Prize winner) – 7000 rejections (not a typo)
Agatha Christie – waited 4 years for her first book to be accepted
Zane Grey (one of the first millionaire authors) – self-published his first book
Beatrix Potter – also self-published her first book
Gertrude Stein – submitted poems for 22 years before getting her first acceptance (read that again)
Anne Frank’s Diary – rejected 15 times
Dr. Seuss – rejected 27 times
Elizabeth Gilbert – took 6 years to get her first acceptance
Frank Herbert (Dune) – rejected 20 times
JK Rowling – rejected 12+ times.
Sylvia Plath – rejected several times (after becoming famous! – the miserable sodding rotters…)
Having been on both sides of the fence, I realise more than ever, that rejections are rarely a reflection of quality. Editors are often looking for something undefinable, a line that gets you in the gut, a brave word choice, imagery that sends your head spinning, or something else that fits with a current theme.
With MONO. we really don’t have a clue what we’re looking for, which is why we keep the guidelines loose and make the rules up as we go. If you ever receive a rejection from us, for the love of God, take it with a pinch of salt, add it to the pile large or small, and consider it an open invitation to submit again (and again and again). We never stop people from resubmitting for any length of time because quite frankly, we’re not the New Yorker…yet.
So, join us in making 2022 the year of the rejection! Who knows, we might even do a poll at the end of the year to honour the biggest rejection pile.
And I hate to break it to you but I’m feeling pretty confident…