I received a rejection yesterday. I admit a certain giddy excitement at rejection (though I certainly love getting acceptance letters more), but it almost always means that a) someone read my work, b) someone critically examined it, c) someone had enough care to respond to me and let me know. Last month, I submitted an academic paper of mine to Duke University’s American Literature; yesterday, the editor e-mailed me to inform me of the decision — and she went out of her way (which she didn’t have to do) to offer me some suggestions of other journals that might be interested in the piece.
I’ve been on the sidelines of the consistent submission game for a few years, but what I’ve seen perpetuated all too regularly is this idea that there’s supposed to be some kind of intellectual combativeness between editors and writers. That writers should feel personally affronted by their rejectors. That editors somehow hold some grand power over the fates of those who submit to them. That seems awfully dramatic.
I’ve got a folder fat with old rejections (most from 2011 and 2012, when I was displeased with the fact that everyone couldn’t recognize that I was a gift to the world of the written word) and sometimes, I take them out and look at them. Like revisiting scars or war-wounds, wondering how I might have prevented them. They don’t disappoint me, nor did I ever believe any single rejection was blatantly attacking or seeking to damage my ego (except the one that said, “Do not submit to us again,” but in their defense, it was my poetry, and nobody should need to suffer that for long). Rejection, I came to learn, put new work onto my plate: work to understand why I was rejected, work to understand what elements might not have been successful; work to understand how I failed to effectively promote my work or myself in an effective way.
Rejections say to me, “You tried,” and then follow themselves up with a quickly-whispered, “How can you improve this?” So with a few tweaks, that piece is back out to other locations for consideration. Because don’t stop, that’s why.