How to Overcome Your Fear of Rejection by Publications
It’s not a matter of getting your foot in the door — it’s a different part of your body
New writers on Medium are often told, you have to submit your best work to publications, especially the biggest ones. That’s the only way, they are told, to get your stories in front of eyeballs when you don’t have a substantial following of your own.
However, new writers are also told, don’t be surprised if those publications reject your work.
It’s gut-wrenching to pour your heart and soul into a story, to edit relentlessly, to believe you’ve finally achieved perfection — and then after a 7-to-9-day wait, the editor contacts you to say, “Sorry, we’re not interested.”
As a result, many writers don’t try very hard to submit their work to publications. I know I myself was guilty of that my first three months on Medium. Although self-publishing was less potentially damaging to my ego, it took me longer to connect with many awesome fellow writers. It took longer for people to discover my work, and for me to reap the corresponding financial rewards.
Here’s a strategy for getting over the fear of being told “no” by publications.
That masterpiece of a story? Don’t submit it. (Yet.)
But don’t self-publish it either.
There’s no limit on how long a story can sit in your Drafts. Assuming your masterpiece contains evergreen content — content that never goes out of style — you can come back and publish it anytime you want.
If I told you your story would earn pennies if you published it now, but could earn many times more than that if you learned a few things first, would you be willing to listen?
I don’t want to show you how to get your foot in the door with publications
It would be closer to say I want to show you how to get your nose in. That’s not quite right either, though.
I want to show you how to get your “no’s” in.
You need to get experience getting rejected by publications. You need to get past the initial sting of being told, “Sorry, not interested.” You need to let it roll off you like water rolls off a duck’s back.
So, here’s what I want you to do. I want you to write a decent, but not your best story, that is an approximate, but maybe not perfect, fit for a publication you want to get into.
Let’s dissect what I wrote above.
You want it to be a decent, but not perfect, fit. What you don’t want is to write a story that is a complete mismatch for the publication. A complete mismatch shows that you didn’t bother to read the pub’s submission requirements, or perhaps you did and you just don’t care. Some examples:
- Don’t submit an erotic sex story to Data Driven Investor, a publication about AI, tech, and finance;
- Don’t submit a story about self-care for those over 60 to the Post-Graduate Survival Guide, which publishes advice for those between college-age and 30;
- Don’t submit a story about your exercise routine to a publication about recipes.
You get the idea. There needs to be somewhat of a fit. Otherwise, you will just tick editors off and kill any future chance you have of getting your work accepted.
You also want the quality of writing to be decent, but not your best ever. The masterpiece that I advised you to put on the shelf, for now, is your A-plus level work. What I want you to submit to the publication is your B-minus or maybe solid B level work. (B-plus or higher, you would want to keep revising until it turns into a masterpiece.)
So, you compile a decent, but not great post. You make sure to do all the little things — credit your images properly, run your post through Grammarly, make sure you obeyed all the publication-specific requirements for your story. Then you add it to the publication and hope for the best.
So you’ve submitted your decent, but not great, work. Then what?
Then you let go. You free yourself from any attachment to your story and what other people think of it. This should be fairly easy to do since you know it wasn’t your A-plus effort.
Now you put that story out of your mind and go to work on other stories or other projects. Again, this should be easy since you had hardly any attachment to that story anyway.
Eventually, one of three things will happen:
Your story, as expected, gets rejected
You get a private note from an editor saying, “Thanks, but we’re not interested.” Or, “Thanks, but this just doesn’t feel right for our publication.” Or, they’ll say in the submission guidelines, “We’re not interested if we don’t respond in 7 days” and today is the 8th day.
Now you’ve experienced rejection. You’ve become familiar with it. It’s not as frightening as you feared, is it? It wouldn’t be the end of the world if it happened again, would it?
Your story gets accepted
This may very well happen, and when it does, it’s a sign that perhaps you are your own worst critic. If your solid B to B-minus story got accepted, what were you worried about with your A-plus story? Wait a day or two and submit it to the publication, with whom you now have a relationship.
You should still try to get a few no’s in from different pubs, just so the “ouch” of them wears off over time. But there’s nothing wrong with expecting a “no” and getting a “yes.” Congratulations!
Your story does not get rejected, but you get a note from an editor
For a new writer, this can be the best experience of all, although it does not come with the immediate rush of being accepted.
Usually, in this case, the editor will attach a private note to your story, indicating that it has potential but it needs some changes in order to be accepted into the publication. This happened to me this week. My writing was a good fit, but I just had a couple of stylistic and tag changes so it would fit nicely into the pub’s menus and so that it would have the maximum possible likelihood of being chosen for further distribution.
It’s important to remember the editor is on your side. They’re not criticizing you or your story. If they saw no potential at all, they wouldn’t waste the time starting a dialogue with you. Listen to what the editor says and if at all possible, incorporate their suggestions. If they can tell you how to revise to get even more views, reads, and claps, why wouldn’t you do it? The publication gets more eyeballs on it and you make more money. Win-win.
I call this the best scenario of all for new writers because it allows you to build a relationship with editors. They’ll remember you as someone who was willing to work with them to produce the best story possible.
You need to get your no’s in to build up a thick skin. That ensures you don’t let the fear of rejection stop you from submitting your masterpieces, your A and A-plus level work. However, when you’re submitting your decent, but not best work, don’t do that more than once per publication. Otherwise, you could develop a reputation as someone who submits inferior-quality work. Then your masterpieces might get rejected without even getting a fair read.
There are dozens of active publications on Medium. Many of their target audiences, and accepted topics, overlap. Get your no’s across a few different ones. One decent, but not great, story should not be enough to sour any individual editor on you.
What do you do with those rejected stories?
You have a few options. One is to delete them. This is not the option I would advise. If you really, really hate them, you can. However, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Just because you didn’t like it, and an editor agreed, does not mean your story does not have potential. Every story you write is a ticket into the this-could-be-the-one-that-goes-viral lottery. You want as many tickets into that lottery as possible.
The most successful authors will tell you, they usually have no idea which of their stories will make it big. They don’t even try to predict anymore. They don’t worry about it and just keep on manufacturing lottery tickets.
Another option is to improve your story. Go back and edit, do more research, and turn that decent story into a B-plus one. An A-minus one. Even a masterpiece. Then you can turn around and submit it to a different publication. It’s all part of learning what works.
A third option is to improve your story and self-publish. In my opinion, this option is underrated. If you use the most popular tags, it’s possible that publication editors will find you and ask you to submit your story to their publication. This has happened to me five times and is probably worth a post of its own.
Now it’s time to return to your masterpiece
Once you’ve got your no’s — once you’ve learned that you can handle rejection just fine — it’s time to return to your masterpiece. It’s time to pull it up in Drafts, dust it off a bit. See if the pointers you learned during the rejection phase could be used to make it even better.
When you feel you’ve sufficiently revised and proofread, pick the publication you believe to be the best fit and fire away!
In summary, “put your best foot forward” is not always the best advice for beginners. Sometimes, when learning to deal with rejection, it’s better to withhold your best work and get used to rejection by submitting pieces to which you are not as attached.
Good luck with your writing career, and may the publication gods smile upon you. If you’d like to read more from me, sign up for my email list, and I’ll keep you informed once a week or so. Thanks!