One of the respondents to my Writers Need Rejection objected to (I’m assuming) the title and the writer I quoted who called rejection a “benefit.” He wrote:
Rejection per se is not especially useful, but the experience Tom Gilson describes is—a rejection that includes specific comments explaining why the editor is saying no. The printed form with no hint at why something is unacceptable is not useful, so “rejection” by itself isn’t, either.
I know how he feels, but as a writer and as an editor who works with writers, including new and would-be writers, I think rejection quite a good thing for writers to experience. Not enjoyable, not pleasant, not encouraging, but good.
For one thing, it’s a very good test of your vocation. If you don’t have enough confidence in your work to keep trying when editors keep saying no, and saying no by form letter, you’re not going to be happy doing it for the rest of your life, even if you’re eventually more successful. The New Yorker rejected twenty-seven of James Thurber’s submissions before accepting one, but he knew what he wanted to do and knew he was good at it.
For another, it provides necessary training in the way the game is played. The reality is that few magazines are going to give you a detailed response and some won’t even respond. The writer needs to learn this and learn to deal with it. If he can’t, he shouldn’t try to write for publication.
We try to say something useful when we turn down a submission, but sometimes one can’t, being busy or having nothing useful to say. And in some cases the writers clearly have no calling to write and encouraging them by criticizing their writing would be unkind, and not only to them but to the poor editors whose time they’d be wasting.
Third, it’s a usefully chastening experience. You’re not special is something the typical writer — and especially the typical young writer — needs to have drilled into him, and it is a lesson most of us resist because we are special, can’t you see that, you thick editor? The editorial judgment that a form letter implies writers need to see and feel.
Fourth, it forces the writer to think harder about what he’s doing and why it didn’t work for these magazines. Knowing what you can do and figuring out what a particular magazine needs and how you can meet its needs is one of the most important skills a writer must develop, and it’s a skill best developed on one’s own. Editorial comments can actually keep the writer from doing the reading and thinking he needs to do.
And finally, a series of form letter rejections may be a sign that you really aren’t called to write or aren’t called to write at the level you think you are. Not everyone who wants to write or thinks he has something to say is or does. This is something only flat, repeated rejection will teach you.
Writers do need rejection, and by form letter too.