If you’ve been with me long, you know my main writing mission is to break into publishing through the back door that so many science fiction and fantasy writing greats broke in through: the Writers of the Future contest.
You know too that I submitted my story, Dreamers Often Lie, to the contest’s final fiscal quarter this September.
I wasn’t supposed to hear back until mid-December. But, blow against blow, I found out last week (a full month and a half early) that my story didn’t make it.
I told myself I’d be strong through rejection. It’s part of the writer life, after all. And it’s important to trudge on. But there’s no way around it: rejections sucks. And even with the promise I gave myself to deal with rejection with dignity and perseverance, to walk this path with courage and nerves of steel, I found the reality of rejection full of emotional pitfalls. Because even if you plan for rejection from publishers ahead of time, it still hurts to see that No Thank You in your inbox.
Have you already been through this with a big writing project? Here’s what it feels like:
Writer Rejection Stage 1: Denial
Wait a minute. When I got the confirmation email from Writers of the Future in September for submitting my story, it said I wouldn’t hear back until mid-December. Dude, it’s barely November. This must be a mistake, right? The email went out in error. Right?!
So I keep reading through The Rejection email, and that’s when I see: “We are doing something different lately and letting you know as the judging occurs.”
Damn it! So much for denial.
Writer Rejection Stage 2: Bargaining
That’s when I did something that most guides on story submitting say never to do: I wrote the contest director back.
My justification? The email says to let her know I received it. And she did offer “tips about the beginnings of stories.” Now, I realize this is likely a copy/paste email they send out to all the soon-to-be-rejected story owners. But still, I’ll take encouragement where I can get it.
So I asked, via courteous email, if it was the subject matter that knocked my story out of the running so soon.
Now, I don’t expect an honest reply on this. I’m guessing a contest like Writers of the Future attracts a bajillion wackadoos who, let’s just say, have plenty of room for maturing their response to rejection.
But, hey, it’s worth a try. And if I get even just a tiny whiff of feedback, my next story submission will have that much better chance of winning. Even an extra whiff counts 😃
I also asked, just in case this wasn’t a copy/paste rejection, if the offer for tips on story beginnings was particular to my entry or something she offers to everyone.
My story starts right into the action—zero backstory, zero exposition. I genuinely believe my beginning was spot on. So I’m guessing this was an offer she sent to everyone. But, again, just in case. (Fingers crossed!)
Writer Rejection Stage 3: Anger
I put a tremendous amount of study time into writing craft basics as I wrote through and edited my story. And I’ll just go ahead and toot my own horn here, I’m a pretty good student. Honors grad, magna cum laude, writing awards, merit scholarships.
You may be rolling your eyes about now, but when I signed off on that story, I felt confident after all that study that it was, at the very least, a strong contender.
So then I started thinking it must be the subject matter that knocked it out so soon, specifically the sexuality. And that’s when I got kind of mad at the world.
Even though I knew the sexuality was a risk, I decided to follow where the story led, even if that meant a No Thanks this round. It was harder to remember that reasoning when faced with the actual rejection.
Then I read last year’s Writers of the Future grand prize winning story, which also deals with some light sexuality. So maybe it wasn’t the sexuality in my story that knocked it out, and maybe my story just sucks. And why won’t they just tell me what’s wrong with my story!!!!!!!
Writer Rejection Stage 4: Depression
Am I deluded? I was so sure this story was, if not a sure winner, at least a stronger contender than getting shit canned IN THE FIRST ROUND.
The characters, if not startlingly realistic renditions of humanity, were at least believable and distinguishable from one another. Dr. Stein has a story arc, the requisite desire-versus-need warring for dominance. The main character, Madeleine, fights through unlikely odds to reach her goal against the clock. The pacing is tight. The writing style lean. The tension high. The plot hole-free.
I went through several revisions. Uncounted edits. Still, I’m not so dumb that I would rely on only my opinion of my story. Ten beta readers helped me polish the final prose, identify continuity errors, obliterate errors of logic.
Am I so disconnected from what makes a good story, that I couldn’t see how bad my story sucked?
How many books have I studied on story craft? How many hours have a wasted on a dream that could never crystalize into reality?
And then I think, am I an fool? Should I quit writing?
Writer Rejection Stage 5: Acceptance
Oh for heaven sake, Mandy. You’re not the first writer to taste bitter rejection. Did you really think it would be so easy? (Yes, damn it.) Did you think you’d ride in with your thousands of hours of labor and study of craft, like everyone else, and ride the wave of fame and acceptance to the top of the Writers of the Future contest? (Yes and yes. Damn it. Damn it.)
Well, you didn’t. So what are you going to do now?
You said you’d have the thick skin it took to trudge through the No, Thank Yous and the Better Luck Next Times. One step after the next, until you reach your writing goals or die. Right? So what’s the next step? Submit the story somewhere else.
And so I did.
And if this publisher doesn’t love it, I’ll send it on to the next one until there’s nowhere left to send it.
Because that’s what we do as writers. We send out our work forever if that’s what it takes. With the fool’s hope against logic and reason. We keep building our craft. We keep writing.
In the meantime, I’ll write a new story for Writers of the Future. This one’s going to win; I can feel it. Wish me luck!
So What’s Next?
Thank you for being here as I pursue my main writing mission. I’d be honored if you join me as I dust myself off and move forward.
To the next phase of this long-as-fuck writing journey! And to all of us writers who refuse to take no for the final answer. Onward, dauntless writers! Onward!