Rejection Rituals

Last week I wrote about Celebration Rituals. Writing wins are unquestionably something to celebrate. But guess what? Rejections are something to celebrate, too. Rejections are progress. I know it doesn’t feel like it in the moment, but they are. They mean you’re out there trying. You can’t get a rejection unless you submit something or query someone, so I truly believe every rejection is a step toward the acceptance you’re dreaming of.

A few years ago, author Dorothy Rice suggested I make a game of submitting my short stories and essays to literary journals by trying to rack up 100 rejections in a year. I decided to try it in 2021. I submitted 107 times that year. I received 55 rejections by the end of the year, and I eventually received 99 rejections out of those 107 submissions, one as recently as December 20, 2022. Of the other 8 submissions, I received 2 acceptances, withdrew 2 submissions because the pieces were accepted elsewhere, marked 2 submissions as “no response,” and writer, 2 of those submissions are still out there, pending a response, once since June 2021. I may try it again this year—it’s not too late to get started! But now I know I’ll probably need to double the number of submissions to 200 in order to receive 100 rejections before year’s end.

I’ve since learned that what Dorothy suggested is called game theory. I wrote about Game Theory and Writing near the end of 2021, as my experiment was winding down. The idea is that it’s a numbers game to some extent—every time you submit a story or query an agent, you’re one step closer to a “yes,” and you only need one. Rewarding rejections is another way of gamifying submissions or queries and making rejection a little more fun. Another option is to go for a certain number of submissions or queries in a certain period of time versus a certain number of rejections. I’ll admit, this option appeals to my controlling nature—I can’t control the number of rejections I get, but I can control the number of times I submit.

When it comes to rejections, I think you should celebrate, dear writer:

  • Whenever you reach your monthly submission goal.
  • Whenever you get a rejection.
  • Whenever you reach a certain number of rejections, maybe ten.

When it comes to celebrating rejections, I think it’s important that our rejection rituals are positive, healthy, and involve self-care. If I went out for a beer every time I got a rejection, we’d be in big trouble. Some better things might be:

  • Make a pact with yourself that, every time you get a rejection, you will immediately query another agent or submit your story again (or maybe make it three new submissions for every rejection).
  • Get a massage or a mani/pedi after you reach a dozen rejections.
  • Take a dance break after a rejection—turn on a favorite song and dance it out!
  • Go somewhere pleasant after a rejection, even if it’s as simple as sitting outside and soaking up some sun for fifteen minutes or taking a walk down to a sidewalk café for an iced tea.
  • Take a day trip to somewhere special after you reach your goal, e.g., 100 rejections (or submissions), or after an especially big disappointment, e.g., for me, I’m planning a trip to Cannery Row next time I need to celebrate a big win or loss.

Just as with celebrating wins, I suggest you think of some ideas ahead of time, something you can do immediately or that same day, so that it becomes a habit to do something positive after a rejection. Then, get right back out there and submit again. That’s the name of the game!