Rejections and the Business of Being a Writer

“I would go home in the evening and write short stories and mail them to magazine editors in New York. The stories, no matter how many times I rewrote them, were always returned, usually without comment, with unfailing promptness. I received so many rejection slips, and such an interesting variety, that I passed them neatly into a stamp collector’s album.  The only consolation I ever got out of them for many years was in visualizing how big a celebration bonfire I could make with them when I had my first short story accepted and published in a magazine.” Erskine Caldwell, “Call it Experience,” in The Creative Writer



Many many years ago – circa 1964 – I read The Creative Writer (quoted above), which is out of print now. You can find old copies, not that you necessarily need to. Much is outdated but at that time, I found it helpful. The book, a collection of instructional and inspirational essays, was published by Writer’s Digest. The magazine was my go-to place to hob-nob with writers and publishers, a publication I read through high school and even into my son’s grammar school years. He told me not too long ago that as a child he found it rather magical that it showed up no matter where we moved. My other go-to magazine was The Writer.

These magazines didn’t so much teach me how to write as offer me some knowledge of the business of writing.  The articles I read instilled a sense of perspective, reasonable expectations (do NOT read lowered aspirations), and determination. I discovered that sending my writing out into the world is like applying for a job. I do my homework and refine my technique. That improves the odds but it is still a numbers game.

Reading what others had to say about the business of studying markets, writing query letters, and submitting work helped me to understand that I had to keep on keeping on. This was a good thing. My first poem was published when I was seventeen and that created some rather unrealistic expectations. I thought I was such a hot-shot that my seventeenth year was also the year I submitted a short story to Mademoiselle magazine (closed 2001) for its annual fiction contest. The contest was for college students. I was still in high school. I lied and put Brooklyn College on the entry form. Joyce Carol Oats won.

All this is to say that while writing is our art, it is also our job and every job has its downsides. “Rejection” is one of downsides of the business of writing. Don’t let it stall you.

Apropos this post, note Victor Villaseñor’s dedication in Macho!: “To my parents …. after ten years of writing and 260 rejections – my first one! …”


Jamie Dedes:

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