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.

On Wednesday, I’ll talk about some of the things I learned that I think helped me finally start selling stories.

(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.)


17 Responses to “rejection”

  1. Sue Nelson Says:

    Thank you very much Carrie, you have no idea how much I needed to read that.

  2. I second Sue’s comment. The rejection pile rises and the spirits fall; sometimes it helps to be reminded that all those little bumps in the road can be a path to success.

  3. WanabePBWriter Says:

    At what point, if you recall, did you start receiving feedback rejections rather than form rejection letters?

  4. We are so very glad that you kept at it.

  5. Carrie V. Says:

    I’m thinking I started getting “personal” rejections maybe 2-3 years before I started selling. There was also a point, maybe 2-3 years after I started selling, when I mostly got personal rejections, so there was definitely a progression there.

    I’ve heard Connie Willis talk about a “critical mass” of quality, that your writing will be of publishable quality for a period of time before you actually start selling. There’s a thing that happens where you start developing some momentum in your writing, and that’s what starts you getting sales. I remember after that first sale, I made a few more sales that were of stories I’d written a couple of years before that. So yeah, my writing was good enough for a while before I actually started selling.

  6. WanabePBWriter Says:

    Off topic on Listverse today.

  7. C.J. Peter Says:

    As an author who has self published (and am selling copy), I wonder just how many of your rejection slips were due to indigestion or a bad hair day or tl:dr on the part of those in charge of your fate. When I was researching this part of the “game”, I read FAR too many horror stories of authors getting the “slip” due to some asshat in a cubicle…as well as some celebrated cases of famous works submitted and rejected for the dumbest of dumb reasons. In the olden golden days, there was no option. Now in the 21st century, the writer can get the work out there and let the READERS be the arbiter. -shrugs.

  8. Carrie V. Says:

    C.J., I have to be honest — I’m really, really glad a lot of my early work was rejected. I don’t have horror stories like that — I have gratitude. As I said, I had absolutely no sense when I started out whether my work was any good or not. (I’ve gotten much better at that.)

    I should point out — I started when I was 16. I was stupid young and genuinely not very good. Honest. If I had started publishing with those early stories, I would not have the career I do now. At least, not under the same name.

    I have a friend who talks about writing/publishing as gambling — the more chips you have in the game, the more rounds you play, the better your odds of winning. I’m pretty sure some of my stuff got rejected for dumb reasons. But that’s why I submit stories to more than one place. And keep writing new stuff. The more stuff I have out there, the better the odds of finding the right market and audience.

  9. C.J. Peter Says:

    i did the opposite. I wrote for “me” and had a different career first. I didn’t seriously consider publishing until far later in life, although I’d been told for years that I should. My decision to go the smashwords/amazon/self market route was due to the fact that the only gambling I like to do is with chips on a roulette table, and the research showed me that while there is more self marketing involved in the self publishing world, the writer is fully in control as opposed to the utter crapshoot/byzantine labyrinth that traditional publishing is…especially for someone just trying to break in.

    So once my work was through the hands of test readers who enjoyed the work and proofed by a couple others, instead of the agent/publisher fishing expedition that can delay a work by YEARS, mine is up on b&n, kobo, apple, smash, etc.,,. with sales and good reviews by readers who purchased the work.

    To each his own, but the author now has the ability to control his/her fate. And you, as an established writer with a built-in fan base, I can’t understand letting others take the fruit of your labor, when via self publishing you can keep up to 70% per copy of the sale…and even set the PRICE of each copy. After all, you sat alone with your forehead bleeding while creating the work and no one else. Its a brave new world out there. my 2 cents.

  10. Carrie V. Says:

    The irony being I would not be an established writer with a built-in fan base without the “traditional” model that put my books in thousands of stores. I’m doing just fine, really.

  11. C.J. Peter Says:

    And I’m not telling you that you aren’t fine. You started your journey when self publishing was a term of derision referring to “vanity press”. That is no longer the case. My point is that a turning point is being reached in the world of publishing and the written word. A writer no longer has to depend upon others to see their works get a wider audience. And that is a good thing.

    Those slips could be a badge of courage/perseverance, or just a pile of targets for the author’s dart board in a grand F.Y. to short sighted idiots.

    I’d point to J.K. Rowling and rejection slips for the flipside of how awesome those are…with 12 publishing houses crying in their soup now.

    Or hell, we could discuss Stephanie Meyer and 91 weeks on the NYT bestseller list…. but in the realm of the point I was making, this makes it best I think:

    “To prove how hard it is for new writers to break in, Jerzy Kosinski uses a pen name to submit his bestseller Steps to 13 literary agents and 14 publishers. All of them reject it, including Random House, who had published it.”
    from this list:

  12. Reblogged this on M. L. Brennan and commented:
    Really great post by Carrie Vaughn that shows her pile of rejection letters. I had a giant file like this as well, until eventually I was running low on file cabinet space and made a purge. Now I just have a huge file folder that has my rejection letters that had ink on them.
    But I think this is great, because it isn’t about how big the pile is. It’s that you keep writing, keep getting better, and keep working, and eventually you can get the “yes.” And all you really need is one yes.

  13. Carrie V. Says:

    The advice I like to give people: think about the kind of career you want. Find authors who have the kind of career you want. Do what they did.

  14. […] I posted about my copious collection of rejection slips.  How did I get out of the rejection grind and start selling stories?  I can pinpoint three […]

  15. Kate Lowell Says:

    Reblogged this on The Blunt Instrument and commented:
    I really like what she has to say about why you keep sending things out. And why you send out stuff that gets rejected. Smart lady. If I didn’t think it would kill me, I’d like to try out for Odyssey. But I want to live.

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