In February 2000, I received my first acceptance letter. I signed my first contracts. I bounced off the walls for about a week. At some point during the great hullabaloo, it occurred to me that the person who sent me the letter was essentially just doing her job. She probably dropped it in the mail without much fanfare. How ironic that so simple a task could, just a few days later, cause such a stir. Like many writers, I framed the letter. I had a party. I fretted over how exactly to word my thank you letter. I puzzled over the proper way to list publishing credits in future cover letters. It was absolutely fabulous, and I loved every minute of it.
While I maintain that publication isn’t necessarily the mark of exceptional writing, it is the goal of many writers. For some of us it’s a form of validation in a culture that doesn’t reward artists. For others, it’s a benchmark, a means for measuring one’s career. For the really lucky ones out there its simply a part of their profession. For any writer who has spent years pursuing this goal, receiving that first acceptance is the absolutely most exciting experience. I honestly don’t think anything else could beat it. This is probably due to the fact that the first acceptance is often a bit of a surprise.
So, how can an acceptance possibly be a surprise to the writer who has been submitting manuscripts for years? Easy. Rejection becomes familiar after a while. It’s part of the territory. If you’re working hard, and have multiple stories to send out, rejection letters accumulate fairly quickly. I have an uneasy truce with numbers so I’ll not share any here. Suffice to say that you learn to look forward to those return envelopes and e-mails. “Did I manage a personal reject this time?” I always wonder as I review the return address. It’s turned into a kind of game for me to try to guess what story I sent out (especially for those long response times that make it hard to remember).
A writer has only so much control over the acceptance process, and it lies primarily in marketing and submitting one’s stories. If you never send out a manuscript, you’ll never be rejected but you’ll never be accepted either. A lot of it depends on hitting the right editor at the right time. Try as we might, we can never be sure when the right time is. The right story to the right editor at the wrong time generally results in the “Loved this, but I got 75 dog stories this month,” kind of rejection.
You never know which story is going to make your first sale, and that adds to the suspense of the whole business. I was genuinely surprised that this particular story was mine. I love it, don’t get me wrong. I love all my stories. It’s just not as powerful or as strong as some of my other work. It doesn’t have a message of any kind. It turned out a bit sillier than I’d planned. In effect, it’s a little like bubble gum. Fun with no nutritional value.
I was dismayed to find that not everyone was excited by my news. There were some who just assumed I would be getting published because it was what I had set out to do. Sounds complementary, but it stemmed more from misunderstandings about the publishing world than utter confidence in my abilities.
Exactly a week after Acceptance Day, I had a Triple Rejection Day. It was a good reminder that I still had a lot of work to do if I want to make a career of this.