What’s not as much fun, but is also necessary, is to notify the people who didn’t get in this year.
I don’t like doing it, and I don’t like getting those notes myself (particularly if I know the person sending it).
The first time I sent out a short story, I was 14 or 15, and I think the magazine was American Girl. I typed up my cover letter, and put my story in the envelope. (I believe it was called “The President’s Papergirl.”) I debated with myself on whether to send a return envelope: I hated to waste the postage, because I was sure I’d be getting an acceptance by return mail. Surprisingly, American Girl did not publish my story! I think it was eventually published in a newspaper carriers’ newsletter. (I delivered the evening paper, The Columbia Record, which I later wrote for. Now it’s gone to newspaper heaven).
The lesson I learned early is that even if one publication has the temerity not to accept your work, surely there’s another one out there that will like it, if you keep sending it out.
Before the internet, when phones still plugged into walls and postal carriers delivered “letters,” it required a bit more effort to find submission opportunities and you had to wait a lot longer to get word of your rejection. Prose writers combed “Writer’s Market” for magazines, contests and anthologies, and playwrights picked up The Dramatists Sourcebook. When I sent out my first full-length play, every time I got a rejection letter, I put it in a folder, and vowed not to look at them until I got a production…and when the fine folks at Trustus finally produced my play, I looked: 35 rejections. These days, that’s minuscule. Now we can Google our way to instant rejection hundreds more times! This is progress?
I don’t know that you have to be a better writer than people were in decades past to get your work published or produced these days, but you certainly have to have a stronger stomach for it. (And in a weird corollary to the instant contact of the ‘net, I’ve noticed that the percentage of people who don’t reply has gone up. I used to be able to count on a letter after a certain number of months or even years; now, I’d say at least one-third of my submissions, which are mostly done by email these days, go unanswered).
I did get a response last night from a festival I was hoping to get into; my play was not selected for production this year. And for a moment, I was 15 again: what do you MEAN my perfectly lovely work didn’t get in? Well that just sucks. I’m going to sulk about it for awhile…awhile being about five minutes. At most. (And, well, maybe a little bit today.)
By admitting that, I’m actually breaking a self-imposed rule that I have never to mention rejections in public. I might grouse to a fellow writer about them (after checking to make sure the fellow-writer didn’t have anything to do with the rejection). But other than that, nada. It goes on the spreadsheet, in the “responses received” email folder, and it’s on to the next thing.
As a writer, I’m sure this has saved my sanity many times over. I think, over the years, about some writers I know who are very good, but who have essentially dropped out of it, or haven’t been able to share their great talent with the world because of rejection, or fear of it, more than anything else. Other people I know who are not geniuses, but solid, focused pros (or maybe their genius lies in stubbornness), have made careers for themselves because they can steel themselves to go on to the next submission, the next production, the next CHANCE for acceptance (though more likely rejection).
How do they do it? The hell if I know…
In my case, I stay active in writers’ workshops or peer groups. There’s nothing like a deadline to make me produce pages (a habit I picked up working in newspapers). And as for submitting…well, I started the En Avant board out of enlightened self-interest: if I could find and catalog the opportunities to submit my work, then I might actually do it myself. I’m also part of the regular Playwrights Binge Yahoo group, founded by Pat Gabridge, who has honed his submission process to a (quantifiable) science, and from whom I’ve borrowed some of his techniques to track my own submissions.
All of which leads to, the occasional production or publication…and more rejection.
From a writer’s point of view, I’m not sure which is worse: the form rejection which tells you how many submissions there were (with the occasional attached personal comment, like: “keep trying!” or “almost!”; the personal rejection from someone you know, or from an especially kind editor/screener, which says you ALMOST made it; or that special hell: getting accepted to a festival, anthology, or magazine, and having them go bust before they can publish or produce your work.
From an editor’s point of view, I can tell you that a followup note from the writer can be a good thing, or more likely a bad thing.When I receive a note thanking me for my time and attention, I am grateful that the person understands how it went down; that’s a good note to send, building relationships with artistic directors, literary managers and editors is part of our job as writers.
On the other hand…I’ve been, and friends of mine who screen, edit and judge, have been the recipients of vicious tongue-lashings from writers who are very, very angry that their work was not selected. We are clearly stupid, idiotic, lying hacks and cheats, who do not know our jobs, are log-rolling for our friends, and deserve to be sued or publicly chastised, lose our funding, and have mean things posted about us on the Internet.
If you want to burn a bridge, go right ahead. Sometimes you have to, if a group, producer, or editor is just an idiot. But mostly they aren’t, and a poisonous screed, or even a long, public, moan of self-pity just identifies you as someone NOT to work with. And while it might feel very good (for a moment) to get all that off your chest, in the long run, it’s bad for you, because if you really begin to believe that everyone is Out to Get You, and No One Understands You & Your Genius, that’s a train of thought that can lead to all kinds of bad endings.
Rejection is personal, because it’s YOUR work that’s being rejected. Depending on how you handle it, you can keep it from ruining your vision, and let it focus that vision on how to get your work to people who just might get you.
Or, and I recommend this to all the writers who have the stamina for it, you can take your vision and make it happen yourself: produce your own work, publish your own prose, create a scene when you can’t find one that has room for you. It’s a HUGE amount of work, but it can be done.
Even if you only do it once, it’ll teach you things you might never have learned if you’d left the power to publish or produce you in others’ hands. Or, you might find that you’re actually good at it, and like doing it, and the rest of us have one more place that might accept our work.
If you do end up editing an anthology, starting a magazine, or a theater festival, please let me know, and I’ll send you something. And I promise not to yell at you if you don’t take my work.