That includes me when I was an unpublished writer. Then--then came the Day of Four Rejections. That's right, four on the same day. Bam-bam-bam-bam. And not with form letters--with comments that made it clear just how badly the editor thought the stories sucked.
Which was a good thing. What? A good thing? Yes. Because it was so bad, and so shockingly awful, that the general misery of rejection came all the way up out of the swamp and revealed its details...and I realized (when I could breathe again) that the pain came largely from the wrong paradigm.
Most of us, before we get rejected by editors and agents, experience rejection of writing in school. Or, if we're good students (and I was) we see it happening to other students. Mostly, our writing gets graded...the only time it gets rejected is when it's so bad the teacher or professor declares it's an insult to have looked at it, and that means a zero. Total failure.
And that's how most of us, as unpublished writers, look at rejections. There's acceptance (the A+ through D) and there's rejection (the F-, 0, flunking failure.) And the person who issued the rejection, like a teacher giving a grade, is supposed to point out where the problem was--mark the paper, so to speak.
And that's wrong. That's not the way things are. Now a lot of query letters, partials, and manuscripts are rejected because, by any definition, they deserve that F-. Those who have been privy to a slush-pile reading, where editors regale one another (and a few friends) with the indescribable dregs and everyone laughs until their ribs ache know the depths to which writers can sink. As one of my favorite poets said (though not about writing) "No worst, there is none..."
But...there are many more people submitting stuff than there are publishing slots for it. WAY more. Not only does F- have no chance, but neither do D, C, or B, not even B+, not even (alas) all the A list. Depending on the publication, the number of slots may be less than one percent of the submissions.
Because this isn't school. And the person who rejects the manuscript/partial/query is not a teacher. So he or she may or may not (and has no obligation to) explain why it was rejected. So getting a form rejection does not mean anything other than...it was rejected. It doesn't mean the story sucked...it doesn't mean the story didn't suck. It doesn't mean the story ranked below the 50th percentile, though it almost certainly ranked below the 99th. All it means is that the submission didn't cross the agent/editor's desk at the moment he/she needed that particular submission. Maybe it sucked. Or maybe it was a B+, pretty darn good, but there were plenty of A-, A, and A+ submissions to choose from. Maybe it came in after all the slots were full. Maybe it came in but it was a clone story or a locked-room mystery and they already had a clone story or a locked-room mystery in that issue or that month's schedule of books. Maybe the editor had a migraine that day and could not face looking at one more query (knowing that tomorrow's mail would bring another stack) and just rejected the last twenty before going home to collapse in a dark room. Maybe lots of things but only one thing matters: understanding that it's not school, it's not a grade, and it's not about you.
OK, that's three things. (Monty Python shows up in the oddest places...)
Of the four rejections that awful but wonderful day, three had sarcastic, put-down notes with them. The fourth, though, said "If this had come in a month ago, I might have bought it but the only thing I have room for now is 1500 words, humor."
I stared at that a long time. I wondered if it was some kind of cryptic invitation to write 1500 funny words and send them in. (YES!) Or was it some kind of cruel joke and if I did that I'd get another scathing rejection? (NO!) I decided to try again. I wrote 2300 funny words...I looked at the note, whimpered and whined and complained as I cut word after perfect word down to 1497. And sent it in. And it was my first fiction sale. Ever.
The same editor to whom I made my first fiction sale...whose cryptic (to me) note gave me that chance....had written the other three rejections. And I never sold to that editor again (and that hurt, but not as badly as before...)
If you want to be a writer, you need to be able to handle rejection healthily. Notice I didn't say happily...but without beating yourself up or wasting anger-energy on the agent/editor/publisher who rejected your submission. Any writer, at any level, can have their work rejected. It's a constant of the writing life, and if you can't deal with it, you'll burn out (or go postal and give the rest of us a bad name.) It's OK to be sad (briefly) and mad (briefly) but over the long haul, if you improve your craft and keep at it...you'll end up with one of those really nice pieces of paper known by the dollar sign to the left of some figures.