By Terrie Bittner
When my daughter was nine or so, her teacher decided to send a poem she had written to a magazine. He did so without telling me until after the fact. I was not thrilled, since her home address was included and the rejection, if it came, would come to her. This was not a children’s magazine, but an adult magazine, and unlikely to publish her. I worried about the impact of getting a rejection letter so young. My first one was certainly hard on me, and I was an adult when it came.
Sure enough, one day a thick envelope came back, and we know what those mean. I hovered nervously as she opened it and read it. Then, to my surprise, she started to giggle. I leaned over, thinking it had been an acceptance after all, but it wasn’t. It was an ordinary rejection letter. Seeing my confusion, she said, “Look, they have five grammar and spelling mistakes in their letter. It’s a good thing they didn’t publish my poem. Their magazine is probably really bad, too, and who wants to be in a bad magazine? I want my poem in a good magazine.”
So where did this child inherit that sort of wisdom? Not from me, certainly. But this day started a new family game. When my rejection letters came, we graded them together. Often, my children saw funny things I missed, but they (and I) learned not to take our rejections too seriously.
One magazine, run by nuns, sent rejections we all loved. They went on and on about how they could see how much I loved children and God, and about how proud God was of me for wanting to serve Him. They expressed so much sorrow and guilt for not buying the stories we pictured them in tears of anguish. But best of all, they always sent me a present to cheer me up—a pretty bookmark with a scripture on it. Presents are good, and always lead to good grades in Rejection 101.
One had a checklist of reasons the manuscript was rejected. Some of them were silly. The editor I sent my stories to invariably checked, “My mother made me do it.” I was disappointed none of the helpful reasons were ever marked, but my children loved the idea of an important editor bowing to his mother’s demands. Humor got high marks, too.
It was a bit surprising how often we found grammatical errors in rejection letters. These are, after all, editors. I had never noticed them until my children made it their goal in life to find them.
One thing I learned from all this was that rejection is just a part of the job, or maybe even part of the game. Life goes on, and so does my writing career.