April 29, 2013
I’ve talked about doing this, so here it finally is. My folder of rejection slips:
(With handy dinosaur ruler for scale. That’s over three inches of paper there.)
These aren’t all the rejections I’ve gotten. This doesn’t include all the e-mail rejections, which are quite legion. Or any of the rejections I got before 1995, which are hidden away in some folder I haven’t rediscovered yet. (I started sending stories out in about 1989). The most recent rejection in this pile? Spring 2012. Yup, I still get rejections. People sometimes ask me how many rejections I’ve gotten, and I’ve never counted. I have no intention of counting them now. Just estimating, based on how frequently I was sending stuff out during my busiest submission period (roughly 1995-2006), I have upward of 600. I know this stack is taller than a ream of paper, which is 500 pages. But you know what, I never paid attention to how many there were. I put them in the folder and never looked at them again. Out of sight, out of mind, move on to the next submission.
I imagine some people are asking, how did I keep going? How could I possibly keep going, after all that rejection? The answer: my writing got better. I could see it getting better. Every story was better than the one before. If the earlier one got rejected, maybe the new one wouldn’t be. Well then — Why didn’t I wait to send my stuff out until I was “good enough?” Answer: I didn’t know what good enough was. I thought I was good enough with the very first story I sent out. I realized very quickly that I wasn’t. Repeat for ten years and several dozen stories. Obviously, I was not the person to be judging if I was good enough. So I sent stuff out and let the editors decide.
I made my first pro sale in 1999, ten years after making my first submission. Now, in 2013, I’m approaching 70 short story sales, plus 15 novels published. Was all that rejection worth it? Yeah, it totally was.
(Update: It just occurred to me to let people know that the story that collected rejections in 2012 was “Astrophilia,” which went on to be published in Clarkesworld and will appear in two “Year’s Best” anthologies this year.)