s someone who perceives the glass as neither half-empty nor half-full, but rather, “Hot damn! There’s something in that glass,” I approach rejections with some optimism in the form of “Hmm. Next.” Not to say that getting a rejection is a joyous moment of my day. No one enjoys getting a submission response that contains the word “unfortunately.” For me, those emails unfortunately are not rare.
So although rejections don’t incite any type of celebration, they are a reality. Recognizing that reality can be its own type of acceptance. Rejections happen, that’s a fact, so let’s move on—though that doesn’t always feel so possible when you get rejection after rejection. Especially more than one rejection in a day. I’ve had the pleasure of receiving four rejections in as many hours, two of which were for the same essay. But dwelling on the rejection keeps you from feeling a forward momentum with your writing. In the words of my favorite and (seriously offensive) rapper, Lil’ Wayne, “Think it over? B****, I’m thinking forward.”
The amazing Jac Jemc (author of My Only Wife and A Different Bed Every Time) is most certainly a writer who is always thinking forward. Back in 2008, I worked with Jac at the feminist bookstore in Chicago, Women & Children First. I was an aspiring writer, and Jac was quickly establishing herself in the publication world with her poems and stories. As I witnessed Jac’s writing career take off, I also saw her consistently updating her blog, “Rejection Collection.” Now nine years later, I recently talked with Jac about how her “Rejection Collection” began and why she continues to update it. I am thrilled to be able to share with you the fantastic-ness of this concept and how we can positively approach the steady downpour of rejections.
“It’s not a woe-is-me-type activity, but more of a this-is-part-of-the-process-so-get-over-it gesture.”
(Photo: Jac Jemc)
Chelsey Clammer: What, exactly, is the “Rejection Collection”?
Jac Jemc: It’s the blog section of my website, where the majority of the content is short posts about the rejections I receive from journals, presses, and residency applications. I try to keep the tone light and matter-of-fact. It’s not a woe-is-me-type activity, but more of a this-is-part-of-the-process-so-get-over-it gesture. I also post when nice things happen: when a story is published or a book is accepted for publication or if I have a tour coming up or something. But the weekly activity is still mostly populated by the rejections because even though I feel like things are going well, there are still way more rejections than acceptances.
Jac’s mention of keeping a light-hearted tone reminded me about how we can use humor to help pull us through our rejections, such as the college hopeful who wrote a rejection letter in response to a rejection letter she received. Some journals help to momentarily muffle the disappointment felt from a rejection with their own sense of humor. For instance, when DIAGRAM passes on your work, the email notification contains the subject line, “Sadly, a rejection from DIAGRAM.” (Sadly, I’ve received this response eleven times in the past five years. I believe this makes me a DIAGRAM rejection collector. I should get a badge.)
CC: Why and when did you start the “Rejection Collection”?
JJ: I started it back in 2008 when I had my first piece of writing accepted for publication. I wanted a place where people would find me on the internet and find more of my writing to read if they were interested; but I wanted something related to my writing that I could regularly update, and rejection was the most regular element. I also liked the idea that I would be using my failures as a means of promoting myself. It seemed funny, but also honest.
In his essay, “Funny Is the New Deep,” Steve Almond says, “[Humor] is the safest and most reliable way to acknowledge our circumstances without being crushed by them... Something is funny because it offers a temporary reprieve from the hardship of seeing the world as it actually is.” This isn’t to say that rejections are traumatic and absolutely crushing or will require a lifelong journey of working through abandonment and self-esteem issues on your therapist’s couch; but Almond is speaking to the thought that we have an impulse to make a situation we don’t like a bit more light-hearted, that we can change the narrative that says we should respond to rejections with a statement, such as, “Uggghhhhh! Rejections suck,” to the response “Think it over? B****, I’m thinking forward.”
“I like the narrative, where an editor says no over and over, and then maybe, and then yes.”
CC: What do you find most valuable or intriguing about the “Rejection Collection”?
JJ: I like the way my relationship to it has changed over time. In the beginning, it didn’t feel like it was any big deal to list all of the magazines that didn’t think I was up to snuff. I like the narrative, where an editor says no over and over, and then maybe, and then yes. I like how a story can be rejected by any number of magazines; and I, as the writer, think, “Maybe I should stop sending it out.” But then a really exciting magazine takes it, and I remember how subjective the whole process is.
CC: What sort of responses have you had from readers?
JJ: Generally positive! People are thankful for the transparency, and new writers are both encouraged (and sometimes disappointed) to see how many nos you need to hear before you hear a yes. One time, I had an editor tell me I needed to stop complaining about my rejections and man up. I asked if he’d read the blog, and he wrote back to apologize.
I think Jac’s antidote speaks to how we writers are in this together. Every writer has to face rejections, and every writer has to figure out how not to be discouraged by them. Aside from writing groups, another example of how community can form in the face of receiving rejection letters is the Facebook group, “Paper Our Walls with Rejection Slips.” Here, people post their rejections not to do that whole “woe-is-me” thing Jac mentioned earlier, but to set down the feelings of “you let yourself down” by posting the rejection on a Facebook group wall. Now keep going, keep submitting, and eventually the best part of the submission process will happen—getting accepted!
CC: What’s your favorite part about doing the “Rejection Collection”?
JJ: Posting the rejections on the blog really feels like a way of closing the door on the negative responses. Once I make the post, I'll archive the email or file the letter, and that's that. I look for a new place to send that story. Keeping the blog has really allowed the progress to become the focus rather than the rejection.
“Now keep going, keep submitting, and eventually the best part of the submission process will happen—getting accepted!”
Speaking of focal points, my next column will present vital tips for finding the right journals for your work.
Jac Jemc is the author of The Grip of It, forthcoming from FSG Originals in 2017. Her first novel, My Only Wife (Dzanc Books) was a finalist for the 2013 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction and winner of the Paula Anderson Book Award; and her collection of stories, A Different Bed Every Time (Dzanc Books), was named one of Amazon’s best story collections of 2014. She edits nonfiction for Hobart. You can find her rejections at jacjemc.com
Chelsey Clammer is the author of BodyHome and won the 2016 Red Hen Press Nonfiction Manuscript Award for her essay collection, Circadian. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Essay Daily, McSweeney’s, and Black Warrior Review, among many others. She’s the essays editor for The Nervous Breakdown. @ChelseyClammer www.chelseyclammer.com.
Chelsey is also an instructor for WOW! Women On Writing. She’s offering column readers a Submissions Consultation of up to 12 pages (4,500 words). Find out more.
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