by Loren Rhoads
In January 2012, I read a blog post that set me on fire. Business coach, Tiffany Han was aiming to get 100 rejection letters that year. Her goal was not really the rejections themselves, but to stretch, force herself out of her comfort zone, take some risks, and see where she could land. I was inspired by the thinking behind the project, which made collecting rejections a game as opposed to wallowing in the sting of them.
I’ve been on both sides of the editor’s desk, so I understand that things get rejected for a lot of different reasons: too long, too short, not to the editor’s taste, they just published something similar, they’re overstocked, they’re changing direction, you’ve hit one of the editor’s pet peeves… As much as I know that I am not my work and I as a person am (probably) not being personally rejected, it still hurts. I often think of the Charles Schulz cartoon of Snoopy typing out his response to a rejection slip: “What I really wanted was for you to publish my story and send me fifty thousand dollars.” Anything that could ease me past the fear of rejection was a good thing. I was up for a challenge.
In the Fall of 2014, Tiffany Han debuted the 100 Rejection Letters program. I loved the idea of a community of writers making a game of seeking rejection. So, without asking enough questions, I plunked down my cash and joined the program. I dove in with a long list of venues I wanted to write for.
Unfortunately, very few of people involved in the program were writers. Most of them were entrepreneurs, starting their own businesses. To answer their needs, the program morphed while we were in the midst of it. The focus shifted from writing articles and pitching to podcasts to making websites that sang, building mailing lists, and other business-focused things that I found fascinating and useful. Privately, though, I craved the challenge and competition of getting those 100 rejection letters.
For me, the best part of the 100 Rejection Letters program was a chart that was meant to hang on your office wall. Every time you scored a rejection, you got to reward yourself with a shiny gold foil star. The point, of course, was not to collect stars or court rejections. The point was to push yourself to submit your work. You were supposed to reach beyond For the Love markets and your friends’ blogs, where you know you can be published. You were supposed to discover new markets and get your work out in front of new audiences. You can’t be discovered if no one knows who you are.
So while Tiffany’s program continues for entrepreneurs who need help kicking their businesses into gear, I’m working on the 100 rejection letters challenge for myself this year. Since I’m going it alone, I’ve modified it to suit myself. I’m announcing every rejection I get on my Facebook page, both as a way to take the sting out of rejection (people have been so encouraging) and as a way of inspiring others to face their fears and get their work out there.
I keep finding refinements to the project, too. Last week, by the time I offered to wrangle volunteers for a shared table at a local literary festival, someone else had already spoken up. I refrained from giving myself a star, because I hadn’t really wanted the job anyway. I hadn’t really wanted the job anyway. I was relieved someone else got to it first. To be able to count a rejection, I decided, it has to sting at least a little bit.
I’m already 8 rejections into this year’s 100. Those eight represent both stories I’ve sent out and pitches I’ve made to public speaking gigs. I’m not relying simply on written work because I just don’t have a backlog of stories that I can use to pepper every market I find – and the response time of most publishing venues is too long to be relied upon to make my goal. Besides, I really do need to push myself to volunteer to speak in public.
So how are you going to push yourself to get your work out there? You’re welcome to give yourself a gold star every time you get a rejection. Maybe there’s a larger reward you can give yourself after every 10 stars? If I make it to 100 rejections this year, I’m going to treat myself to a bottle of Lillet and another pack of gold foil stars. And start my chart all over again.
Loren Rhoads is the co-author of Lost Angels, which comes out from Automatism Press in April 2016. Its sequel, Angelus Rose, will be out in November. She is the author of The Dangerous Type, Kill By Numbers, and No More Heroes – a space opera trilogy – that was published by Night Shade Books last year. She writes about writing, female role models in science fiction, and cemeteries as travel destinations. Check her out at lorenrhoads.com.