Writing journey

The Great Equalizer Known as Receiving Submission Rejections

Who loves receiving rejections? Isn’t it super fun? Submission rejections are my fave.

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Photo by Prateek Katyal on Pexels.com

Yeah, sorry, I can’t even joke-fake enthusiasm for them. For me, a rejection of my work stings like neuropathy, even if I can reason that it might not be a problem with the quality of my writing, but that the story isn’t a good fit for the publisher.

I don’t know about you, but perhaps the most difficult thing for me as an author when receiving a rejection is not knowing the reason why. And I completely empathize that it’s way too much work for most editors and publishers to give out this information. It would probably be an administrative nightmare for them.

“When one of my novels or stories is rejected, I have a moment or two of wondering why they didn’t like me or my story. Every book is a piece of me after all. I used to go into a downward spiral where I would doubt everything I’d ever written. Now, I allow myself a few hours of grief and let it go. There is always another story to be told and another reader to be found.”

Jamieson Wolf, SpAN contributor and author of Little Yellow Magnet and Beyond the Stone

What’s also tricky for me is that these days, I’m primarily writing disabled protagonists. So, if a story of mine is not accepted, it’s very tempting to wonder if it’s because of the disability rep in it. I mean, a few of my colleagues and I have discussed how the phrase “I couldn’t related to this story” can be used as a cover that means the editors/publishers don’t want marginalized characters to take the lead. Or that we are writing disability or neurodiversity in a way that doesn’t fit the harmful tropes many in the publishing industry have accepted are actually true.

So, what I tend to do is absorb the sting, then take a step back. After a bit, I’ll reflect on the story itself to analyze if there is anything I can do to improve it. Often, I can think of how to make it better! And sometimes, I keep it as is and submit elsewhere.

The first time someone told me my writing wasn’t good enough was quite possibly the first time anyone had told me that, ever.

They were very lovely about it, but I was devastated. But for me at least, that rejection taught me that I was no longer automatically the best writer in the room. I was a writer in a world full of other writers, just as good, if not better than I was. And I had never worked on my craft. I had simply coasted.

I learned quickly that I had work to do.

Rejection is always tough, without a doubt. But you can either let it depress you or you can let it motivate you to improve and to practice. That sounds trite, I’m aware. But as a society we tend to assume that writing is an inherent skill. We tell artists to keep a sketchbook and to practice their craft, but we generally don’t tell writers to do that.

But rejection does.

So I’m grateful for it.

April Laramey, SpAN contributor, author, and painter-poet

To try to alleviate that feeling of I can’t believe it’s not ableism! (okay, corny joke that made me date myself), I’ve realized that it’s important to me to submit to places where there’s an understanding of the diversity of our lived experiences. This way, I’ll tend to find it easier to accept that a rejection of my work might be more likely because it’s just not a good fit, or it needs improving.

I’ve been rejected even from my own publishing company. It’s never pleasant, and I was devastated. But it helped me get back into writing comics, which I’m happy about!

Nathan Fréchette, owner and Publishing Director of Renaissance press, SpAN contributor, and artist-author of Some Assembly Required

One extremely humbling experience for me was submitting a story that didn’t have proper sensitivity editing. I cringe at myself for that. I should never have done it, and no wonder it was yeeted into the sun. From that point on, I am a stickler for hiring editors/readers with lived experience, who can tell me how to write characters so editors don’t yeet my stories into the sun. But that rejection was good, because it helped me grow up and learn!

I literally only queried one book and I deserved the rejection because I had no clue what I was doing and had no business querying it at the time. Most of the time I don’t take it personally. I mean, pretty much every industry I have been in has been 99% rejection, 1% success. I like pain apparently.

Christina Robins, SpAN contributor and author of Entanglements

Switching perspectives for a second, in 2018-2019, I was afforded the opportunity to be a co-editor of an anthology. It was the first time I sat on the other side of the submissions table. I’m really grateful I had that experience because I began to comprehend what it feels like to be the issuer of rejection notices. What I can say is that while we easily refused stories that didn’t adhere to our guidelines and frankly, completely ignored them, other authors wrote wonderful stories that we also didn’t accept. Why would we reject those? Simply put, Talia (my co-editor) and I discovered the stories we really loved kind of had a certain mood, feel, ambience, and we really wanted to have stories that fit with them. So, it hurt to say no to some stories, and we tried to be encouraging with our notices. Other stories we didn’t accept also felt to me like they could become a novella or novel, and I really hope those authors did that, or found other collections where their work was accepted.

The bottom line is that it seems that everyone who calls themselves an author has had to deal with their work being rejected. And I’ve also noticed that well-established, award-winning authors go through this, too. So, we potentially have a large pool of potential empaths who can offer an encouraging word or helpful advice, if we want to seek that out.

It’s one of the great equalizers in AuthorWorldLand.

My hope is that if you’ve felt discouraged, you reach out to alphabet arrangers who get you. And I hope you keep writing and find a place that appreciates and celebrates your work!

(Btw, I got rejected a bunch of times during this pandemic. And then I got a couple of acceptances in the blink of an eye. Swings and roundabouts, I guess, right?)

You got this, though.



Cait Gordon is a Canadian autistic, disabled, and queer author of speculative fiction that celebrates diversity. Her short story, The Hilltop Gathering (We Shall Be Monsters, Ed. Derek Newman-Stille), features a disabled protagonist and was discussed at a symposium about Frankenstein at Carleton University. Cait also joined Talia C. Johnson to co-edit Nothing Without Us, which was part of a disability studies course at Trent University and became a 2020 Prix Aurora Award finalist. When not fine-tuning manuscripts, Cait advocates for disability representation and is the founder of the Spoonie Authors Network. She lives in Ottawa with her husband, Bruce.

You can find her on Twitter and learn more about her writing and the In the ’Cosm podcast at her author website!

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