On our most recent podcast episode, Sephera Giron, Andrew Robertson, Julianne Snow and Dannen Hawes sat down to chat about every writer’s worst nightmare: rejection.
While the discussion revealed all kinds of great tips on how to deal with rejection, things got really interesting when the panel addressed their favourite rejection letter/experience. The consensus remained clear: getting rejected sucks, but each writer survived and even learned a thing or two (or three) from the experience including:
- Test your boundaries – don’t censor yourself just because you’ve received a rejection.
- Sometimes (especially for screenwriters) the idea is more important than the writing.
- Resubmit – there’s someone out there who wants what you’re selling.
So, what are you waiting for? Keep reading to learn more about each writer’s personal rejection tale.
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Andrew Robertson (Writer, Editor)
I submitted a story for a queer, Cthulhu anthology that never came to pass. It was an aids origin story within the Lovecraft universe, where the disease started with the ancient ones and then crossed over into the human realm. The editor loved it but the publisher did not. I’m not sure if it offended his sensibilities (I mean, it was queer and it was Cthulhu). So, I was told the story wasn’t accepted.
As I was writing it, I did think, is this too much? Should I be creating mythology out of a very human disease? But I think within horror and speculative fiction, you need to cross those lines. If we don’t cross those lines, then we wouldn’t have some of the most brilliant work that has come out of the genre.
I ended up holding onto the story, and you know what? The whole anthology ended up getting cancelled. It really worked out for the best because I was able to send it out again to Stitched Smile Publications. They picked it up for the premier issue of their magazine.
So, whereas one publisher could give you a slap in the face (because they don’t like what you’ve written with your horrid imagination) there could be another publisher that totally gets you, that will be willing to take something that’s a little bit gruesome, or that crosses some invisible line, or upsets certain people. Not putting the pen down becomes really important.
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Danann Hawes (Screenwriter, Publisher)
The second script I wrote enabled me to secure an agent. That script also got some good coverage from a studio that I really respect. I was really excited, the feedback was really positive and I got the sense that the reader was going to be a real cheerleader and kind of help to push it through the ranks (at the studio).
The script reached a third round at the studio. I remember my agent sending me the coverage, and it was really terse and not at all complimentary. My heart sank. All I could think about was all of the hope I had felt based on the previous positive coverage.
But you realize that all you need is one ‘no’—and the opportunity is dead. That was an important lesson for me. You need (at least for a screen writer) five, six, seven ‘yesses’ in a row to have a chance of getting optioned. You have to have a thick skin and know that there is a certain amount of subjectivity in these assessments. So, if someone has: had a bad day, just read a script that bears a resemblance to yours, or doesn’t like your concept, you can get a ‘no’ and that’s it. You have to be able to tough it out (and there is a little bit of luck involved too!).
Another quick story: after that script, I wrote my third script. I was really excited about it. It seemed to just flow from me, and I really felt it was better than the last one. But my agent didn’t like it. He didn’t think the concept was as strong. It made me realize that having the right concept is as important, if not more important (depending on the genre) than the quality of the writing or the perceived quality of your writing. I didn’t think my second script was necessarily written that well, but the concept was so strong. It was a good lesson for me because I learned how pivotal it was to have a good hook.
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My favorite rejection was disguised in an acceptance. I had submitted a story I had written called, Franken-Squirrel to an anthology. It’s a bit of a kooky story (I like to write kooky because it adds an interesting level of horror to the horror). I thought it was perfect, but they were looking for giant monsters and unfortunately Dr. Franken-Squirrel was a short, diminutive man who liked taxidermy.
The editor sent me a rejection, but then wrote me back (literally, I got one email, and then as I was finishing reading that email, I received a second email from him) telling me that he wanted to contract my story immediately for a different anthology.
In this case, the rejection was kind. He loved it, he thought it was great, but the story just didn’t fit—and I understood. I’ve gotten standard rejections and know that it can be hard as an editor or publisher. It can be exhausting to write personalized rejections because you’ve just spent so much time reading hundreds of stories (and a lot of places get a lot more than that). So, it can feel really great after reading a rejection to get an acceptance.
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I’ve written two stories that were rejected. They both ended up being published, and both were up for awards.
The first story was called, Release. It’s about a girl who drills a hole in her head to let the voices out. I had three different editors tell me they wouldn’t publish the story because they were afraid that readers would be negatively influenced and try drilling holes in their heads too (crazy, right?). The second story was called, Mother’s Love. It was based on something that happened to me in real life when my two sons were small: I was getting on the subway in Toronto when my older son tripped and fell. The subway doors closed and started dragging him along the platform. People freaked out, but we got the doors open and managed to pull him inside.
So, that was terrifying and traumatic, and I had to write about it. In my story though, the baby doesn’t make it and he dies. Editors wouldn’t publish it because they said it was too depressing, but eventually someone did! Since then, it’s even been republished several times.
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