Reject Rejectomancy!

Ken Liu cropped
Andy Dudak (left) interviews silkpunk author Ken Liu (right) at the 2018 Norwescon Conference in Seattle, Washington.

If you’re writing to be published, chances are you’ve suffered from some form of this mental condition. We’ve all gone through it, we’ve all caught it–some just show more virulent symptoms than others. We send out a story. It comes back with a rejection. It can be the dreaded form rejection, or it can be the encouraging personal rejection–also dreaded, because these can be even more confusing.

Then we drive ourselves nuts trying to guessย why the story got rejected. This was to be the pinnacle of our writing career! The editor must have macular degeneration and have been three sheets to the wind! What other explanation is there? Oh. Maybe, just maybe, they left us an explanation, hidden secretly in their brief words. Ken Liu talked about this at Norwescon this year. He called the condition Rejectomancy. Let me get my notes. Hm. A place for everything and everything misplaced. Ah. Here it is under a tube filled with nautical maps of the San Juan Islands. Obviously! Okay, here we go!

Ken said he had sold a story to Writers of the Future and another to Strange Horizons and thought he had made it as a writer, his professional career was destined to take off. So he sent out his third story to professional markets, expecting wondrous results. After one year of sending it from the top markets down … no sale. Two years … no sale. As each rejection came back, Ken began counting words and letters in the rejections, measured paper size compared to previous forms, and tried to discern if the editor was sending him some secret message within each one as to why it got rejected. That’s clinical Rejectomancy. As his frustration and despair mounted, Ken’s need to have that story sell caused him to create his own form of numerology. My words, not his, but I’m sure he’d agree with my assessment.

At some point during those two years, Ken rewrote the story. Mind you, he wrote nothing else during those two years, he just did that one rewrite. Ken fixated on its success. That story had to sell before he could move on! He worked it down the semi-profressional markets–markets defined by SFWA as paying less than six cents per word, or smaller circulation. No sale. He worked deeper down the markets. No sale. Finally, he sent it to markets paying just one buck for a story. Nada. So he said, and I quote, “I decided my first two sales were flukes. So I quit and became a lawyer. My writing career was dead.”

And that’s where the story might have ended. But about five or six years after he quit, he got contacted by the editor of an anthology that remembered him. The editor was doing an anthology titled Thoughtcrime Experiments. Ken called itย STORIES THAT HAVE BEEN REJECTED MANY TIMES. The idea for the anthology? The belief that there were rejected professional stories out there that were great stories, they just weren’t good fits for the markets they had been sent to. Ken gladly sold them his story. At the conclusion of the anthology, the editor posted the rejection statistics on each one. Ken said, “Out of all of them, mine was the champ by far!”

Ken said this sale was like a message from the universe that he should write again. Had that editor not contacted him, Ken Liu would likely still be pursuing a career in law, instead of the author of 150 short stories, and the epic silkpunk tomes of the DANDELION DYNASTY.

Moral of the story? Don’t be Ken Liu. : )

Okay, do be Ken Liu! He’s a great guy–humble, sincere, and personable–and he’s a brilliant writer and has a wonderful career! Just try not to read too much into rejections, because therein lies madness, and down the rabbit hole ye’ may go. Rejections aren’t fun, but taking them personally can be harmful. If you focus too much on rejections, they might even kill your writing.

What’s the cure? Stand back up if a rejection knocks you down, dust yourself off, and send that story right back out. And then get on with writing…and sending out…your next. You’re a writer, you know the drill!

Reject Rejectomancy!


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