My First Rejection

I haven’t posted anything of substance in a while, so I thought I might write about my first rejection letter.

When I was 17 years old, I wrote a short story, titled “The Fairies.” This story features a young girl and her imaginary friends who, ultimately, kill her by tricking her imaginative and naive self into falling out of a window.

It’s “fairy” in the old, trickster, Sidhe-court manner. Not “fairie” in the sweet Tinkerbell manner (though Tink has apparently become the bad girl of the Disney heroine set of late.)


At any rate, I decided the short story was worth attempting to publish. After all, at 17, I was behind the curve compared to other teenagers who had written and published books (Eregon had not come out yet; actually, Chris Paolini was probably in diapers at this time in history).

I knew there was only one place to send my manuscript. A market that had been heralded as open to any new writer, even young ones (heck, I’d seen stuff written by 16 year olds in its pages!) Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine.

Fantasy went out of publication shortly after MZB’s death a few years ago, but it really was an excellent magazine. It was the right place to be rejected by a real star of the fantasy fiction world. It was also especially, though not explicitly, welcoming to women writers.

I had read MZB’s guidelines front to back and formatted my manuscript carefully. The Fairies had been written on a Brother word processor, one which could save a set number of files to the local memory. I was able to change the line spacing using the keyboard, and new fonts were just a daisy wheel away.

I printed it out. I learned cover letter writing from Ms. Bradley’s guidelines: don’t use one unless there’s a reason to do so. Although I wanted to crow at her: “This is my manuscript! This is me! This is what I wrote for you! I’m seventeen and full of possibility, and you are the very first person I wanted to see this!” I resisted the impulse. I sent in my manuscript with a SASE.

I didn’t keep records back then, so I don’t know when I sent out the manuscript, only when I got it back. February 12, 1992 is the date on the letter I received back from MZB. I happen to remember 1992 pretty well, as it was the year I graduated from college, and I seem to remember that February 14th I was getting over pneumonia (it was a really crummy Valentine’s day). In any case, I remember getting my rejection letter and being so very proud– I may have been rejected, but I was rejected by the best!

Ms. Bradley did not have any encouraging words to impart, simply that they weren’t a juvenile market (I puffed my chest: “well, I’m not a juvenile writer!” I thought… juvenilely.)

Since then, I have gone on to write and submit many other short stories. Longtime readers know that I have collected my rejections in a scrapbook, which serves double-duty as a place to store my rejection letters, as well as a place to track my submissions (I also track them in my blog, as you may notice from the “Submissions” category under “Writing”). It’s also an excellent way to turn something that could be painful into something really fun.

Collecting and reviewing past rejections is a valuable exercise for any writer, but especially for those who have too much confidence in their own work. From it, I discovered that I had submitted my stories an average of 2.5 times before giving up. This seemed ridiculously low to me, so I double-checked. Yep. 2.5. Wow! Most short stories that actually do get published have been seen (and rejected) by more than 7 editors before they score a hit. Everyone aims too high.

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3 thoughts on “My First Rejection

  1. This is very cool. I didn’t know that stories were rejected an average of 7 times. Holy smoke. Right. That’s made my day feel a whole lot better.
    I have a friend who laminates his rejection letters and turns them into table mats. I think your scrapbook is a fantastic idea.

  2. Here from JM’s carnival… what a great story! I can’t believe you scrapbook your rejection letters; mine are in a couple of scarily thick files under my desk. I just can’t see spending that much time putting them in an album!

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