It's raining here in South Carolina, and it's cold. Wet, raw and gray. Which pretty much matches my feelings when I get a rejection letter in my inbox.
Rejections are never easy. Every story I send out goes with hope, well wishes, and fantastic daydreams. The act of pushing it out the door is a leap of faith. "It's good," I'll say to myself, "really good. I could get paid for this!" I insist, tightening my tentative grasp on new-found confidence. I scour the internet looking for markets to submit to, and use sites like duotrope.com to find a publication that may be a good fit for my piece. Once I find a hopeful-looking market, I go back over my fiction and make sure it's as clean as it can be, and meets the submission guidelines (some markets are very particular about spacing, font, line indents, etc). I compose a carefully worded cover letter, read over it to make sure it says what I really mean (and for Christ's sake, addressed to the right place), and then I sit there for a moment, index finger hovering over the mouse button.
Sometimes I hear back in a matter of hours - Necrotic Tissue rejected me in less than a day. More often it's a waiting game: most small markets will get back to you in 3-6 weeks. Larger publications, like Weird Tales and the time immemorial Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction have thousands of submissions a month, so it may take much longer to hear back from them. Patience is important; I've mastered the art of forgetting about pieces I've sent. It does no good to obsess about them. Switch that part of your brain off as well as you can, fellow writers.
And then, more often than not, the answer is no. No, it's just not a good fit. No, we appreciate the submission, but it doesn't have what we're looking for. We enjoyed reading this, but we're going to pass. And so on. The trick is to look for the encouraging words, buried in the rejection email like tiny nuggets of gold: It has some great moments. This is well written, and you had me hooked. You have a wonderful grasp of imagery. And then there's the coveted phrase, please consider submitting to our market again. YES!! I immediately turn around and send them something else when I hear that - as I did this morning, when my story "Yellow Bus Tuesday" was rejected by Pedestal Magazine. Five minutes after receiving their pleasantly-worded rejection, I had my story "Knights of the Road" headed their way.
Riding the rejection train isn't easy by any stretch of the imagination, but I find if I keep in mind how many rejections it takes to get an acceptance, I can handle it with a positive attitude. In 2009, I submitted 19 times and was accepted once. Once. Because of those kind of statistics, I remind myself every time I get a "no" in my inbox that it's a numbers game. The story is good, so someone will take it sooner or later, right? I always hope it's sooner, but that's not always the case. There's a long journey ahead of me, and I'll be traveling a lot of it via one long, black train... more often than not through cold, gray weather like what's visiting South Carolina today.