Yes, rejection feels like a big “NO!!!”
A student in my Lit Mag Love course once said, “Sometimes it feels as though the universe, in the voice of lit mag editors, is shouting NO at us.” As a writer, rejection feels horrible. It can be gutting.
Especially when writers will fill in the blanks of short rejection notes with bad imaginings.
It does not help that rejection notes are usually short and formulaic because editors are busy and overwhelmed with submissions. The lack of information is a breeding ground for ill thinking about your writing. In the absence of information, our inner-gremlins go to town, letting us know the “real meaning” of this letter—that we aren't meant to be doing this writing thing, that our thoughts and ideas aren't worth sharing.
But it is wrong to imagine “no” means you're no good.
I thoroughly empathize with the feelings that you're getting “no” shouted at you, and that it means you're no good at writing. If you've been reading these letters for a while, you'll know I’ve definitely felt this myself. But, this is wrong-headed. (So stop it!)
“No” from an editor never means Surrender Dorothy.
In truth, a “no” from an editor never, ever, means you should give up on writing. I’ve spoken with so many literary magazine editors that I can say this with certainty. It may mean you should give up with this one submission, or revise it extensively, but, as editors, we don’t want to crush your writing dreams. We’re not sadists. (Nor are we wicked witches.) We signed up for this work to support and encourage writers and the best writing. That can't happen if you give up.
For one thing, editors dislike sending you a rejection.
When I first joined a lit mag as an editor I quickly realized that sending out rejections was the most hated task around the virtual office. We had one person assigned to sending out these form emails, and it was grueling work, emotionally speaking. As soon as we could automate this job, we did. Rejection letters are short and formulaic (cold, even) because there is no joy in sending these out. We would much rather focus on acceptance letters and respond to writers whose work we’re going to publish.
We want you to succeed.
As you send work out this month, I'd like you to remember this: editors are rooting for you. But...you knew this was coming...we get a lot of submissions. We get far, far too many to print, and far too many submissions aren't anywhere near ready for publication.
If your work has the kinds of flaws we have seen often, we will reject it quickly. That still doesn’t mean we want you to quit, au contraire, it means we want you to work even harder and submit again when you have put in more work.
Yet sometimes even if your work is amazing, we might have to say no.
The hard truth is that even if your work is flawless, and perfect for the magazine, it still might not make it into an issue. There is still only so much room and editors try to find a balance in the journal as a whole. Did we already accept another piece for this issue on a similar theme? Do we have only three pages to fill and your story is four? It becomes almost arbitrary at the end when we’re picking among works of the same quality. We end up rejecting truly excellent pieces by strong writers. I’ve done it, and I died a little on the inside each time.
So, remember that next time you get a rejection and don't get caught in the spiral of negative thinking.
As a celebrated writer-friend said in the Lit Writers Facebook group, “I think the biggest mistake I made was to allow myself to get angry, depressed, and despondent over rejections and allow them to sit in a drawer.”
Because rejection is just part of the job of a writer.
If you want to publish your writing, and if you're here I assume you do, you must be read and get a response to your writing from both editors and readers at large. Unfortunately, it is part of your job to face rejection. Rejection is professional development, as TNQ editor Pamela Mulloy puts it.
How you are able to handle rejection is one of the greatest determinators of your success as a writer.