By STEPH AUTERI
For Montclair Local
Steph Auteri is a full-time freelance writer and editor who has written for The Atlantic, the Washington Post, Pacific Standard, VICE and other publications. Her memoir, “A Dirty Word,” was released in October 2018. She is a member of Montclair’s The Write Group. For more, visit stephauteri.com.
I woke up this morning to a rejection email in my inbox. It was for a short, lyrical essay I had written and submitted nearly a year ago. A piece I was quite fond of. A piece I was hopeful would actually find a home. The rejection hurt more than usual, as my piece apparently went through several rounds of consideration and came close to being chosen for publication. SO! CLOSE! ::shakes fists at sky::
Still, after the briefest of mourning periods, I opened up the spreadsheet in which I tracked my numbers of pitches and submissions, moved this particular publication to the “rejected by” column, and considered where I might send my piece next. And that was that. Onward!
I learned early on that writing is a numbers game. When I first began freelancing full-time, I joined an online community called Freelance Success, which held regular “query challenges.” Members were split up into teams. Each person earned one point for every query they sent out and three points for every assignment they received. Points were tallied on a weekly basis. The team with the most numbers of points at the end was the winner.
I loved this challenge. Not only did it provide me with accountability (god forbid I let down my team!), but it also helped me develop a momentum I soon realized I needed if I was going to have a sustainable freelance career. After all, you can’t get published if you’re not sending out (and sending out, and sending out) your work. And if you allow yourself to be derailed by rejection? You’re toast.
Rejection therapy has been hot lately. In 2015, entrepreneur Jia Jiang did a TED Talk on the topic, and wrote a book — “Rejection Proof” — on how he had spent 100 days seeking out rejection on a daily basis in order to find a way to deal with it without letting it “destroy” him. Writers soon seized upon how the concept was especially relevant to their lives. In 2016, writer Kim Liao wrote a piece for Literary Hub on why you should aim for 100 rejections a year. The piece was so popular, the publication had her revisit the topic just this past February. But she’s far from the only writer to collect rejections. Writing groups around the world run rejection competitions, with members brandishing their rejections with pride as proof that they’re at least putting themselves out there.
But the rejections themselves are not the point. Rather, it’s about building and maintaining momentum. How can you, too, successfully play the numbers game?
- Make a list. Before sending out a submission or story pitch, take some time to research publications that would be a good fit for your work. Then draw up a list of places that would work for that particular piece, in order from “YOU ARE MY DREAM PUBLICATION” to “Sure. You would be cool, too.” Work your way through this list, aiming high first. Note: Some places are okay with simultaneous submissions, while others are not. Do your homework.
- Follow up. If you don’t hear back, don’t assume all is lost. While some query letters do get lost in a shrieking void of silence, never to return, in some cases, your email is just buried in an inbox. If you’ve waited a reasonable length of time, no editor will begrudge you a polite follow-up. Rather, it will often spur them to (finally) make a decision.
- Don’t take rejection personally. There are any number of reasons why your piece might be rejected. But know this: It’s not personal. So don’t dwell. Instead…
- Flip that pitch. Immediately send that piece on to the next publication on your list. A rejection does not mean your piece isn’t publishable. It just has yet to find its forever home. And if you give up after one rejection, it never will.
And just for good measure… Send a new piece or idea to the place that just rejected you. Especially if their rejection letter specified that they’d like to see more from you.
They may have said no to your piece. But they’re not saying no to you.