What Form Rejections Mean to Me: an Essay

To celebrate The Rejectionist’s first blogoversary,  she has asked us to write a prompted essay:  “What Form Rejection Means to Me.” 

If you’re visiting from her blog, welcome!  If not, go check it out—I’ll wait!

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Form rejections  mean that I  have the courage to send my stories out there; that I’m growing another layer of skin to my thickening hide; that what did not kill me has made me stronger.  Form rejections aren’t a personal attack or about respect or the lack thereof.  They simply mean that mine is not included among the small percentage of queries or stories that caught the attention of this particular agent or this specific publisher at this time.

That is, once I’ve recovered.

A form rejection first opened is a kick to the heart with pointed, poison-tipped shoes.   A meaningless kick, the kind someone might give to something in their path when they’re too busy fiddling with their Blackberry to pay it any attention.

Form rejections are impenetrable.  They’re dismissive.  They’re soulless.  They are the hope-killers, the little deaths that bring despair and writer’s block.

In the moment\hour\week\month between the opening of the envelope and the philosophical sigh, they hurt like hell.  And pain can send even the most reasonable of us over the edge.

I speak from experience:  I almost divorced my husband over a form rejection.  

Several years ago, I sent out my first query for my first novel, to an agent—no, no, to The Agent, the one who graced the top of my list after much research and reading of blogs and client work.  I knew about multiple submissions, as well, but wanted to send this one out by itself, a kind of ritualistic maiden voyage of my hopes.

It was also—and this is where I admit to a major mistake—an effort to show my husband-the-non-writer that I wasn’t just a wannabe, that writing fiction wasn’t a waste of my time.  By his lights, I hasten to say, not mine.

I know, I know.  Classic set-up.  But not being completely naïve, I didn’t tell anyone about the query.  If I was rejected, I could pretend it hadn’t happened, or share whatever encouragement or suggestions there might be.  If I was accepted, I could pretend I’d known it all along.  Try a little nonchalant modesty, maybe.   A satisfied nod.

Fast forward past six weeks of what if dreams to a certain Thursday. 

I met my family at our favorite neighborhood restaurant after work.  Once we’d ordered,  I asked, as I’d promised myself I wouldn’t do, but always did, whether I had any mail waiting at home.  My husband said no, but that he’d opened this letter of mine that had been sitting on the bench by the front door for a whole week.

“It’s from some literary agency,” he said, passing it over.  “They don’t want your book.” 

As I said, I wasn’t completely naïve; I’d had my share of non-fiction rejections.  One would have to be on the hubris side of self-confident to assume one’s very first query was going to hit it out of the park.  And obviously, my husband didn’t have any idea I’d written to an agent or the hopes and dreams I’d placed on the reply.

But damn, it hurt.  Especially because it wasn’t a private pain:  someone else took it upon themselves to open that rejection—the one addressed to me— and share its contents.  In a public place.  In front of my children.  In front of my mother-in-law.  And then, a little later, asked me what was wrong.

There are special adjectives for people who do things like this.  Once we were alone, I believe I used them all.  Twice.  

And I cried.  And dragged myself to the computer and researched Illinois divorce forms and tried to calculate how difficult it would be to divide our books and DVD collections.  I knew I wasn’t being completely fair, but I also didn’t give a rat’s ass.

But things calmed down, as they do, and I was eventually able to admit that I’d been hit upside the head with yet another learning experience–the kind you get when you don’t get what you want.  There’s a valid argument for saying that form rejections are useless as learning tools.  They don’t teach much about writing, no, but for the stuff that you didn’t want to learn  . . . yeah.

If you ever need to use an outside object for personal validation—and trust me on this, you don’t, for anything—never use a query letter.  Because sure as the devil made dieting our national pastime, a form rejection is sure to follow.

But—but—I took a deep breath and sent out the rest of those queries.  Mostly to show The Agent, true, but I did it.  And I kept sending out my work.  Not all of the replies were rejections, and not all the rejections were forms, but it still hurt.  It still hurts, present tense, to get rejections. 

But none will ever hurt as much as that first one. 

I’m still writing.  I’m still married to the same man.  I’ve developed as a writer, he’s developed some sensitivity, and we’ve been working on our communication skills.  He leaves my mail alone and  I no longer offer excuses for being an unpublished fiction writer.  I don’t need any.

My time will come.   Because I have the courage to send my stories out there.   I’m growing another layer of skin to my thickening hide.  I’m not dead yet and I’m getting stronger every day. 

That’s what form rejections mean to me.  Eventually.

13 thoughts on “What Form Rejections Mean to Me: an Essay

  1. Oh ouch! It makes me hesitate to send work out!

    By the way, the link in your comment on The Rejectionist didn’t work and I had to click on your profile to find you. I thought you’d want to know.

  2. Ouch…I felt your pain with that recounting. Yes, let’s get some breakfast and perhaps some mimosas to dull the rejection sting?

  3. Damn. And I thought my first was bad. It was an email and I was at work. I was sure I could wait until I got home to read it but broke down and opened it before lunch. Then I hid in the ladies room for a while with some tissues.

  4. Oh my gosh I can’t believe that story! Thing is, I can see my significant other doing pretty much the same thing (and I’d use all the same adjectives).

    Also: “sure as the devil made dieting our national pastime” LOL you are a genius.

    Thanks for this post, bookmarking it for when I will need it later 🙂

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