Writing & Selling Personal Essays: Rejected? 7 Steps to Recovery

By Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

This morning you receive a response in your email inbox from the publication to which just one week ago you submitted what you considered to be a well-crafted essay. The subject line gives nothing away, but when you open the email, you discover it’s not the acceptance for which you had hoped. Instead, it’s a rejection, and a very impersonal one at that.

Ouch. Rejection hurts, I know. But here’s the truth. Getting rejected is part of the writing process. Everyone gets rejected from time to time, even the most prolific, experienced writers.

But from here on, the important thing is not that you were rejected, but how you deal with it. The way I see it, you’ve got two possible routes: One, you can hurl yourself into a deep, mind-numbing depression during which you don’t leave your couch for a full month and during which you consume 341 pints of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream and 62 frozen pizzas. Or two, you can follow my very supportive, productive plan for writing recovery.

With me? Great. Here’s what you do:

1. Feel the pain and do what you need to do to comfort yourself. For some, that might mean running seven miles at high altitude while carrying a five-pound weight in each hand. For others, it might mean consuming four pints of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream. (Better than 341, right?)
2. After no more than five days, print out the rejected essay. Read it critically. Read it out loud and listen to every word. After you’ve read it once, read it again. Read it forward. Read it backward. Read it to your roommate, spouse, mail carrier, writing partner, or dog. Read the essay until you’ve got a sense of it-until you know what’s working and what’s not working.
3. With the material fresh in your mind, ask yourself a multiple-choice question: Was this essay rejected because:

  • It’s not polished enough or it has some inherent structural flaw?
  • It wasn’t a good fit for the publication?
  • It was a matter of bad timing?

4. If your answer is (a), then sit down at your computer and get to work. You are more than capable of moving this essay from pretty good to excellent.
5. If your answer is (b), do more research. Look for a publication for which this essay is a perfect fit. That might mean a trip to the library or the bookstore to peruse the magazine collections. If you don’t find anything there, try your best friend’s living room floor. (She’s always got at least a dozen or so magazines strewn around.)
6. If your answer is (c), look for an equally suitable publication. (In this case, you may have received a note from the editor telling you that your essay was right for the magazine but that she’d just accepted an essay on a similar topic.)
7. Send the essay out again. Yep, no rest for the rejected. The longer you wait to get this piece out again, the harder it will be to go back to it.

See? That wasn’t so hard, was it? Way better than rolling around in a vat of self-pity for a month, huh? Now all you have to do is wait for the acceptance letter (and get to work on your next essay).

Personal Essay Marketplace: Got an uplifting, inspirational essay? Chicken Soup for the Soul might be just the home for it. Chicken Soup publishes a series of essay collections on all kinds of topics, including dogs, cats, holidays, high school, and lots more.

Kristin Bair O’Keeffe moved to Shanghai, China, in April 2006 and has been writing about this incredible country ever since. Her blog, “Shanghai Adventures of a Trailing Spouse,” chronicles her adventures (and misadventures) in Shanghai and garners the attention of readers all around the world. Her essays about the China experience can be found in The Baltimore Review and To Shanghai With Love (forthcoming). As a respected writing instructor, she has taught hundreds of writers over the past fourteen years and is currently teaching both fiction and nonfiction writing in Shanghai.

RSS RSS Subscribe to Writers on the Rise

  • This Blog Moving to ChristinaKatz.com as of December 30, 2009… December 27, 2009
    We’re moving! Writers on the Rise archives have been here for years. I hope that WordPress will let the archive live on for a good long time. However, it’s time to move on, bittersweet as change may be. Please come and find me at my new digs: http://christinakatz.com. And while we’re both thinking of it, […]
    The Writer Mama

RSS RSS Subscribe to WOTR Comments


Christina Katz's Facebook profile
October 2008

Top Clicks

  • None

Blog Stats

  • 300,809 hits

%d bloggers like this: