Need tricks for decoupling self-esteem from publishing rejection
February 23, 2019 2:50 PM   Subscribe

Hi! I used to be good at the whole work hard and the rest is a mystery stuff. Then I got some small successes and started shooting for prestigious outlets. Now the rejection stings. How can I return to my prior state of zen where I sort of didn't give a fuck? Has anybody experienced this anxiety arc and overcome it?

This used to be me: submit submit submit, received long train of rejections, occasional acceptance. All was well. Then something changed. I want to say it was when I started getting some small recognition and entered a state of productivity that's been pretty intense.

I used to not know anything about the acceptance rates of the markets I submit to. Now those numbers are like engraven on my soul. I need to research these numbers because in order to advance my career I need to know what markets are more competitive.

Yet that knowledge is fucking with my head, because I'm starting to see an acceptance from a journal with a 1.9% acceptance rate (not that I've received any) as like an elevation to sainthood or something. And when I get a rejection from like a 5% acceptance rate market that seems like a perfect fit for my work, I go through a black period (like a few minutes) of wondering why I'm writing.

a) I get this is neurotic and b) I'm in therapy, where we're working on how I've had in the past a bad habit of externalizing my self-esteem, which is clearly what is happening now. I can generally talk myself out of the funk in not too much time.

But what I'm looking for is some sort of shield so I can look at my email and not feel slugged in the gut if I happen upon a rejection from a journal I had high hopes for. Like, what do people tell themselves? Note: I'm not trying to make myself feel like an unappreciated Norman Mailer or anything like that; I just want to avoid the feeling of shittiness that comes with publishing rejection, if it's possible. Maybe it's not, and feeling a little bad sometimes is part of the job--if that's a truth I need to hear, shoot.

posted by angrycat to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Maybe it doesn't seem relevant to you but it seems relevant to me: what kind of journals and submissions are we talking about?

Because I think the answers might be different if you are getting e.g. poetry rejected from literary journals vs. social science research rejected from peer-reviewed research journals, let alone a zillion other kinds of journals that review submissions for publication.

But maybe it doesn't matter. So I'll just mention that almost all of my objectively best work (in terms community recognition, acceptance to journals with low acceptance rates, etc.) has come about through multiple rejections from other outlets, often after being rejected by outlets of lower prestige.

I don't know what you're doing or why, but for me and many of my peers it turns out that regular and repeated rejection is par for the course, even for the very best work in our fields. If you cannot embrace rejection, you cannot embrace success.
posted by SaltySalticid at 3:13 PM on February 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm talking about creative non-fiction and fiction to journals that publish same
posted by angrycat at 3:17 PM on February 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I tell myself that oh well, the super-literary college intern who's screening submissions on the front lines didn't get my sensibility or style.
That intern used to be me. I thought I knew everything, but man, I SO did not. I'm sure I let things slip by when they weren't exactly what I in my 24 year old confidence thought was good.
Somehow that makes it less of a judgment from heaven.
posted by nantucket at 4:05 PM on February 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I do think that feeling a little bad sometimes is part of the job.

Try to keep in mind that rejection isn't a judgment on the goodness or badness of a piece. It can be partially that - but especially once a piece passes the screen of basic competence, that's only a small piece of the whole story. Whether a piece aligns with the genre preferences, style preferences, aesthetic/thematic concerns, of a particular editor - whether it overlaps too much with the other story they just accepted, whether the editor is not in a mood where they are capable of being enthusiastic about anything, whether the editor has an irrational prejudice against stories about sheep - all of these are things beyond your control (although you can partially mitigate them with research). (You've read excellent books that you didn't personally connect with, right? Excellent stories that you definitely would not have chosen to publish if you'd been the one in charge?)

Even the most fantastic piece may need some shopping around before it finds the editor who's going to see what's fantastic in it.
posted by Jeanne at 4:14 PM on February 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: YMMV, but it really helps me to read about successful authors' experience with rejections. It normalizes rejection; it also puts into perspective the reality that we only see people's successes, rarely ever failures, and that said failures/rejections are far more common for talented and successful people than we may believe.

Search the #ShareYourRejection hashtag on Twitter (link is to an Aug 2018 NYTimes article about the hashtag).
posted by nightrecordings at 4:23 PM on February 23, 2019

Best answer: The thing that works best for me is identifying multiple places to submit the same piece. That way, I can work down the list, confident in the belief that if everything gets accepted immediately I'm aiming too low. If I only pick one market to start with, choosing subsequent markets suddenly seems like much more work.
posted by yarntheory at 7:49 PM on February 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I'm terrible at dealing with rejected submissions, too. I think it's not uncommon! Being a slushpile reader at a literary magazine has really helped my perspective on this one.

In the slushpile, I've read a lot of stories that I genuinely love, stories that mean something and stick with me for a long time, but just based on what the magazine's looking for I know it's a rejection. Over time, I've come to realize that so much of the time it's an impersonal, can't-be-helped rejection based on the magazine's style and fit, not a straight-up rejection of your writing.
posted by fire, water, earth, air at 2:04 AM on February 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Friends, I had a breakthrough after a good night's sleep which I thought I'd share with y'all and mark this one resolved, but thank you so much.

The piece that I was getting uber up-tight with in terms of no rejections no was some extremely personal creative non-fiction, more personal than anything I'd submitted before. I do have some high hopes for it on the strength on the writing alone, but I'd lost sight of the fact that it's acutely personal, to the point where somebody unsolicited suggested I publish it under a pseudonym.

Which is why the rejections really got through my usual I-don't-give-a-fuck shield, I think, that and the usual pang when you really believe in a piece of writing and it gets shot down.

Understanding this dynamic, along with your comments, your comments indeed aid so much, help me buffer my rejection shield with an extra layer of give-no-fuckery, which I'm sure will serve me well in the weeks of rejection ahead.

posted by angrycat at 5:09 AM on February 24, 2019 [4 favorites]

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