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Bonnie Mercure has been writing and submitting short stories for four years. Her short stories have been published in numerous magazines and ezines, including Writer's Journal, Storyteller, Black Petals and Kovacs Files. Her children's book The Old Man and the Toads will be made available soon at Crossroadspub.com.

Here is an article she wrote especially for dowse.

Dealing With Rejections. . . .What the Heck To Do With a Story That Just Wonít Sell.
Bonnie Mercure

You know the feeling. You hear the audible clunk of the mailman dropping todayís mail into the mailbox. Your heart quickens, your palms start to grow clammy. What could todayís delivery be? Bills? Probably. Useless Advertisements? Most definitely.

That acceptance letter youíve been hoping--praying--for?

You amble to the mailbox, reach your hand inside with as much anticipation as a kid grabbing a cookie from a cookie jar. You scoop out todayís offering, and then you see it.

A SASE. Your SASE.

Seeing your name and address, written in your handwriting, gives you a strange sense of deja-vu. For one moment that seems to stretch on for all of eternity, you simply stare at that SASE. Then, that odd feeling of deja-vu passing, you amble back into the house. If youíre like me, before you tear the envelope open you scrutinize that SASE like a detective looking for hidden clues. You peer at the stamp, trying to remember when you bought that particular design. You try to guess by its weight how many pages lay folded inside. Enough for a contract? You can only hope. . . .

Then that moment arrives when you canít wait any longer. Taking a deep, cleansing breath, you rip that SASE open.

And there it is. The dreaded rejection letter. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some address you by name, while some use a generic title such as Ďwriterí or Ďcontributor.í Some are written in an apologetic way, perhaps with a few encouraging words scrawled on the bottom, while others are cold and impersonal.

No matter how theyíre written though, they mean the same thing.

Your work has been rejected.

What if the rejection is for a story you know is worthy of publication? The answer, of course, is easy: you send that story to another editor, then another one, and on and on until you find an editor who is compelled to buy your story.

But is there a certain point when enough is enough? A point when you think, Okay, this story is definitely not going to earn me the great success like I had thought?

I have this short story that has been rejected more times than I can count, or even care to admit. Itís a literary story, or perhaps mainstream or contemporary. . . .whatever category the certain editor I am submitting to requires. Anyway, itís a story about characters--a brother and a sister who overcome amazing odds to escape the wrath of their father and go on to live a simple, peaceful life.

When I first wrote the story I sent it to a good friend whose opinion and insight I valued completely. This friend, aside from pointing out a few minor errors, had very good things to say about it. He raved about the theme, about the interesting characters, then went on to point out several symbolic messages in the story I hadnít even realized were there. Wanting more than one opinion, I subbed it to an online critique group. Once again, the story was met with high praise, along with some useful suggestions on places where I could tighten the prose. After I reworked the story using my friend's and online critique group's suggestions, I was all set to send the story out to greet the world.

Selling such a literary masterpiece should be a piece of cake, right?

Not so. I sent the story out, and received a rejection. I sent it out again, then again, until I had accumulated a handful of those nasty little things called rejection slips. Then, on a cold winter afternoon, I received a most promising reply.

It came on a postcard. It said, very simply, that the first round of readers found my story quite promising, and the story has been passed on to the executive editor for a final decision.

Needless to say, I was ecstatic. The publication paid top rates, and, even though I told myself that I shouldnít get my hopes up, I imagined what I would do with the money earned from my short story. I would buy a new printer, pay some bills, take my family on a weekend vacation. . . .the possibilities were endless.

Several weeks went by. I became obsessed with the mailman. Our mail comes anywhere between noon and three oí clock, and during that waiting period I would check my mailbox a dozen times every afternoon, until I was positive that my neighbors thought I suffered from obsessive compulsive behavior.

Then it came, packaged in a yellow business-sized envelope. Not able to contain my excitement--positive it was a contract--I tore open the envelope.

It was your standard, run-of-the-mill rejection letter. There wasnít even an explanation as to why the executive editor passed on the story. The only answer I received was the ever-popular "It doesnít fit with our editorial needs."

Well, I was crushed. But I didnít let it get me down for too long. I told myself that at least the story had gotten that far, and a few days later I sent it out to another publication.

Months and months passed.

Just when I was about to send a polite letter asking if the editors had received my story, I found a large brown envelope from the publication in question waiting in my mailbox. The envelope was thick, as if it contained a small book or magazine. Curious, I tore the envelope open and slid the contents out. It was indeed a magazine--the magazine I had submitted my story to.

I stared at the slick cover, and for one brief but utterly crazy moment I was convinced that the editors had published my story. Perhaps they did things backwards--they published the story and then sent an acceptance letter.

I opened the magazine; a white scrap of paper fluttered to the floor like snow. Reality sunk to the pit of my stomach like a brick. I picked up the piece of paper, and wasnít the least bit surprised at what it said.

The story had made it to a second reading, though in the end they were forced to reject it, due to space limitations. For my troubles, I was given a free copy of their magazine.

This time the blow wasnít that bad--after all, I didnít even know the story had made it past the first round of readers until now, and they were quite nice about it, offering me a real explanation and a free copy of their magazine. So, without the slightest hesitation, I sent the story out again.

And again and again, receiving rejection after rejection. Some had encouraging words scrawled on the bottom, while others were as impersonal as spam mail.

In between these rejections I polished the story, tightening it in certain areas, making the dialogue more interesting. Of course, I worked on other manuscripts during this time, too, knowing that the worst thing a writer could do is put her hopes and dreams into one manuscript. Many of these subsequent manuscripts were accepted and published yet still there was that one story that wouldnít sell.

Why?

I hadnít a clue. So, I decided to try a market which only paid in contributor copies. I knew from experience that these markets were the easiest to break into. With that in mind, I purchased several magazines that paid in copies and studied them until I found the one where my story would most likely fit. Feeling good about my decision, I sent it off to them. As the weeks went by and I waited for a reply, a sense of relief filled me, as if a great weight had been lifted from my chest and I could breathe easy. Surely the story was bound to be accepted. The editors of the little magazine which paid in copies would be delighted to have my story, a story that the big publications thought worthy of a second reading.

Boy, was I wrong.

The rejection I received from that little magazine went something like this:

We found your story lacking substance, to say the least. The theme is trite, the characters dull and unimaginative, with an ending that made little sense. In short, your story has absolutely nothing to offer the literary world.

It took a full minute for the shock to wear off, then I read it again.

I still couldnít believe it.

Then anger set in. Who did this guy think he was? I ripped his obnoxious response to pieces and threw it into the trash. Did it make me feel any better? Not really. The editorís words still stung. After the anger wore off, I tried to make excuses for such a reply--perhaps the editor was in the wrong frame of mind when he read my story. His dog couldíve just been run over by a car, or he was suffering from a bad case of the flu. Or he might simply get his kicks from making writers feel bad. Maybe he just received a nasty rejection himself, and wanted to repay the favor.

Though no matter how much I tried to analyze why this editor gave me such a reply, it still came down to the fact that the guy hated my story, that he no doubt thought it wasnít even worthy enough to line a hamster cage with.

So, what did I do?

I want to say I sent the story out right away to another publication. But I didnít. Instead it sat in a file for months, and in fact still sits there today. But I plan on taking the story out of hibernation very soon and re-read it and send it out again. Hopefully, the time away from it will give me a better perspective on the story.

All writers receive rejections. Itís part of the writing life. Does that make rejections any easier? For me it doesnít. Sure, Iíve read the statistics. That Hemingway received x amount of rejections before his work was published, that Stephen King received x amount of rejections before finally finding a home for his work. All successful writers had at one time or another been subject to rejection.

This knowledge does nothing to soothe the sting, though, at least for me. It would be like someone coming into a delivery room when a woman was in labor and saying, "What are you belly-aching about? All women go through this! Itís as natural as breathing!"

Yes, all mothers go through it, but that doesnít lessen the pain, does it?

All writers receive rejections, but that fact still doesnít ease the blow to their self-esteem.

Though Iíve learned that as time goes on, and I better my craft, rejection does get easier to take, that it really is a part of a writerís life. No, I will never be completely numb to those nasty little rejection slips, but I have made my peace with them, as best as I can, anyway.

Besides, there is always the chance that the next time you open a SASE it might contain an acceptance letter. You just never know.


 

Read Elvis Has Left the Bathroom by Bonnie Mercure at dowse Fiction Hub

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"Dealing With Rejections" by Bonnie Mercure