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Celebrating Rejection 🥳

So, I had a short story I really love rejected yesterday. This time, I'm celebrating it.

It's no secret that if you want to be a writer you need something of a thick skin. The more of your writing you send out, the more times you'll be rejected. Time and again. As with a new guitarist developing callouses on their fingers, a writer developing a thick skin comes with discomfort and pain, until you get to that point where whatever once caused you pain no longer does.

Some established authors talk about rejection – usually once they've made it big. It's a way of looking back and assuring emerging authors that it happens to the best. I'm doing this as an author who hasn't made it, because I always find it encouraging to see others at a similar stage as me going through the same things and because I recently got a rejection worth celebrating.

Sometimes a rejection is a result of bad luck. Maybe the first reader didn't understand what you were trying to do. Maybe they skim-read it, or they were tired. Maybe there were other pieces that resonated with their personal tastes even more. Sometimes rejection is a sign that the work you're sending is undercooked. Maybe it needs an editor, or to be left alone for a little while. Come back in a few weeks and you may think of another way to improve it. Sometimes it's a sign you're sending it to the wrong places. I sometimes send something I wrote to a publisher because they're the best paying or best known, but not because they're the best fit. That always ends up the same way – wasting my time and theirs.

The problem is that publishers are so inundated with work that usually you get no indication, one way or another, of exactly why you've been rejected. You receive a stock email they send everyone else, and it explicitly says that while they would love to give you feedback, it's simply not possible.

Except, it is possible. It's not easy, but it's possible. And that's why this rejection is worth celebrating.

So. I recently had a piece of writing rejected. The piece in question is one I'm quite happy with. It came to me fully formed (though I've since edited it quite a bit). It expresses some very raw emotions I feel about the state of conflict in the world, but it couches this in a way that I feel can be broadly interpreted. When I read it at Reykjavík Open last month, I received plenty of positive feedback. It's short (less than 1,000 words) and emotionally punchy. Someone once told me an early draft made them cry.

Not only was I happy with the draft I submitted, but I found the right home for it. The publication in question is Orion's Belt. They might not be the best known or best paying, but they publish excellent quality flash fiction of literary speculative fiction. If I had to summarise my piece in a couple of words, those words would be 'literary speculative fiction'.

So I sent it in, thinking not that it would be picked up but that it could be, and this is a better feeling than I usually have when I submit a short story. Then, over the next few weeks, I put it out of mind.

Until yesterday.

The email.

I knew it was a rejection immediately. Glancing at the previewed first few lines in my inbox was enough to tell me this. It had the hallmark phrasing:

"We appreciate the opportunity... Unfortunately we have chosen..."

I almost sent this email straight to my archive. It's easier just to acknowledge the rejection and move on with your life. For a full day I put it out of mind. But then, as I was going through my emails later, I noticed the email was much longer than I expected. So I skimmed the rest, then read it more closely.

Yes, the first paragraph was the usual text but they went on...

"We really loved this worthy and thoughtful story. It reached the final round of submissions... I hope this news provides some measure of consolation, even though I know this rejection letter must be disappointing."

Nice words, I thought. Maybe they say that to everyone? But then I read on:

"I dearly hope you’re able to find a beautiful and appropriate home for such an intriguing and forceful story. Your capacity to create a piece that works on both a literal level and a symbolic one is quite impressive. The inertia of routine, the drive to pretend that nothing has changed against both empirical evidence and the dread conjured by the mind, is portrayed here with precision and thoughtfulness..."

It really means so much when someone takes the time to reflect on your work and offer some words of encouragement, even if they choose not to publish it. This one's not for the bottom drawer just yet.

So, cheers to you Orion's Belt Founder and Editor-in-Chief Joshua Fagan!

I guess developing a thick skin doesn't always have to be so uncomfortable.



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