You are going to fail. Not once, not twice, but over and over. You have to. It's part of being a writer. There is no interview to go through and your resume isn't all that important. No one cares who you are (at least not yet). What they care about is your story. And every story is a new job. A new chance to impress or not. Odds are you won't impress them. At least, not more than the horde of other people trying to do the exact same thing you are. You'll get rejected. A lot. When I started taking writing seriously, I got rejected for an entire year before finally getting an acceptance letter. That's pretty rough. It's really easy to start feeling down and decide to just quit. I mean, you're obviously failing over and over so maybe you're just no good at it. Why keep banging your head against the same wall, right?
Meh. Maybe not. Maybe don't quit. Not yet. As John Taylor says, "Don't quit. I know someone in this room is about to do it, but don't. There is someone out there that needs to hear what you have to say. Someone out there is waiting for your book. They need you. Don't quit."
So, how do you get over that?
This isn't really a guide on how to published or getting readers or anything. More just about how to deal with-- rather, how I deal with-- failure.
1) Where are you submitting your work? How much do you know about the particular publication? I've gotten rejected from Clarkesworld and Strange Horizons about eleventy-hundred times. It bummed me out a lot. But, then I found out that Clarkesworld only accepts 0.09% of the stuff sent to them. Strange Horizons is a bit better with 0.79%. That's not even 1%. That is seriously elite. I'm not saying that you shouldn't try or that you should lower your expectations. Just that getting accepted here is like winning at bingo at something. Which is to say, it never happens to me.
So, instead of getting discouraged, try expanding your pool. For me, I found Horror Tree to be crazy helpful. If you don't write horror, you might find it less helpful, though they do occasionally do speculative fiction calls. Also, Duotrope is pretty awesome, but it's a subscription service.
2)Are you offering the right story? Once, when I was looking for a job, I found a paper company that was hiring. I like paper a lot. It seemed perfect. I had my whole cover letter typed up about how much I love paper and stationary, then I thought to myself that I maybe oughtta take a look at their products. Toilet paper. They made toilet paper.
The moral of this story is don't try to sell a splatterpunk story to an inspirational publication. They probably won't like it and now you're the assbutt that made the poor editor read that. Granted, that's an extreme example, but you get the point, right? This kind of ties into number 1 up there. You should always do some research on the place to which you're submitting. Even if it's just reading their webpage.
3)Are you trying to sell the story you want to sell? This one is trickier. This requires some objectivity and ability to accept the right criticism. I listened to talk from Christine Taylor-Butler, who warned against letting your work be critiqued before you know what it is.
I got this rejection letter for my story Left and Leaving:
Thank you for submitting "Left and Leaving" to [Name Removed], but we've decided not to accept it for publication. I found this to be very creepy and atmospheric, but ultimately the story didn't quite work for me. I saw the twist early on, so it wasn't a big satisfying reveal, and I left the story wishing I knew more about who the kid was and what exactly had happened. I also didn't understand why the friend didn't turn the body over to the authorities. Thanks for letting us consider this, though.
First, I want to say that it was wicked awesome to get a rejection that included the reasons why. That is not the norm. But I didn't take any of the advice for several reasons. First, I never thought there was a twist in the story. I hadn't meant to set it up as a twist. The fact that she saw it coming was exactly what I'd intended. In a post Sixth Sense world, I knew the story wouldn't work with the narrator's life as a twist. Also, I'd thought about that bit about the body. In my original drafts, it had not been addressed and it started to bug me, so I'd added in a bit of dialogue between the narrator and Dylan that would would explain why Dylan didn't later turn the body over to the authorities. I did ask my writing group how they felt about the body issue and they all felt it had been covered. I don't fault for the editor for not noticing because they have a lot of stuff to read and have to make snap decisions. But that left her main complaint being something that I'd done intentionally. I knew I was writing a gothic ghost story. I wanted the reader to know it was a gothic ghost story. She got that, so I was happy. Even if it wasn't her cup of tea.
But, sometimes you do have to change some things. Recently, "Getting Wet" got on the second read list for a zombie anthology, but didn't end up making the final cut. I went back over it and decided that, yeah, it could use some work. I ended up adding about 2,000 words to it and, honestly, I think it's a much better story now. We'll see how it fares with this other editor.
So, failure. It's gonna happen. You can't help it. If you're getting rejection letters, it means you're doing something. It means you have stories to send out. It means you've written and that you're working. It means you found the courage to send your creation out into the world to sink or swim. So, rock on, man. You're awesome. Go fail some more.
Eventually, you'll wake up, see that new rejection in your email, and it won't be a big deal. You'll look at the story, edit, and send it out all over again. And maybe someday, it'll learn to swim.