Don’t Give Up

Some of the stories you write you just know are good. Not only do all your friends praise it, but when Ray Bradbury read it he praised it, too.

So how come a story like that gets rejected over and over again? And not just form letter rejections, but personal rejections. Always personal rejections. And more than one of them tells you, “we can’t use it just now, but I’m sure you’ll have no trouble finding someone to take it. And please send us something else.”

So if you’re that good, if they like the story, if they want to see more of your work, then why did they reject this story? It’s hard to say. Sometimes rejection happens because the editor just bought a couple of stories that are similar to yours. Perhaps you wrote a time travel story, but he just bought two of them and he had four appear in the magazine so far this year. He just can’t take another, no matter how good or how unique yours is.

Getting published is not just about your talent. It is not just about knowing your craft and being good at it. Being good at writing is simply a given in the world of publication. A lot of good writers get rejected every day. Rejection is not necessarily because you’re incompetent; often, it has nothing at all to do with your competence. It’s just a business decision. What you wrote doesn’t fit the need of the publication right now. Sometimes that’s all it is.

So what do you do? One of the most important traits for any prospective author, for any author at all, even if he has been frequently published, is perseverance. You have to keep on trying. You have to refuse to stop trying. Giving up is the one sure fire way to avoid getting published. Never giving up, taking a beating, and sticking to it is the way you will succeed.

In baseball, a good hitter is one that makes it to first base only once out of every three tries. If you fail two out of three times—if you fail 66 percent of the time—then you are a very good hitter. And every time you get up to bat, you may see several balls go past you before you get that hit. You might get two strikes, maybe two or three foul balls, and two or three balls before you swing and connect and hit it just right so that the ball falls between the opposing players and you scramble fast enough to get on base. Or maybe, you get on base only because one or more of the players on the other side does something wrong—they make a mistake and you’re safely on base only because of their screw up. It counts for you, but you know that all things being equal, you’d have been out.

Writing is often times the same way. There is a whole lot of failing and a whole lot of luck involved, even if you are at the pro level.

So don’t give up. Don’t get discouraged. Keep at it. That’s the only way you’ll ever get anywhere.

This segment of Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem, If describes how a writer must be:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

Kipling ends his poem by stating, that if you can do all this, then “Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,/And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son.” I would tweak Kipling’s words and change the last line to, “You’ll be a writer.”

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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