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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Rejection Can Rejuvenate by Sarah J. McNeal

Like so many writers I began writing at an early age. I was nine. I had no mentor, no one who inspired me to write, and no one in the family who wrote and could guide me through the pitfalls and show me the ropes. I was on my own to find my own way through the scary world of publishing. But I was an optimist and expected everything to work out just fine. In other words I thought my work would be published right away.

I learned the awful truth at the speed of light.

I had just turned 13 when I completed my first short story. Like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, I had visions of greatness when I submitted my story to “Seventeen” Magazine. The submissions editor was certain to call me on the phone and personally thank me for my award worthy submission. I rode high on my dreams of becoming a published author for quite some time.

And then the day came when my self-addressed, stamped envelope came from “Seventeen”. My heart practically beat out of my chest with expectation. My hands shook with the surge of adrenaline from my excitement. When I opened the envelope and pulled out the form letter that simply stated that my story didn’t fit the type of work the magazine had in mind. I did what any kid would do with rejection: I cried. It was the first and last time I would ever cry over a rejection…and a good thing since plenty of rejections would come my way.
The amazing thing is, that rejection didn’t deter me from writing another story. I know my writer friends can relate when I say that the rejection just made me more determined than ever. Now I was in a fever to write good enough to become published. I wrote, and wrote, and wrote. I took correspondence courses through the mail from writing schools. Later, I took classes in writing in college. I joined Romance Writers of America. I subscribed to writers’ magazines like “Writer’s Digest” to find the answers to why my work was rejected and what I should do about it. I knew that writing was a highly competitive endeavor, but I honestly could not stop.

I began to take rejections that offered some kind of advice or critique of my work as golden opportunities to learn. Meanwhile, I went to work as a nurse and supported myself while I continued to write and reach for my goal of becoming published. I did not know any other writers then. I had no one to hash out my ideas or converse with about the road to publication. I was alone, having to figure it out as I went along.

And then in the autumn of 1996 when I was 48 years old, I got my first submission acceptance with a short science fiction story titled “Blind Intuition.” Words cannot fully express the elation I felt on that day. I cried—this time with profound joy. I called everyone to tell them my good news. My friends took me out to lunch to celebrate. My sister helped me celebrate by taking me out. I published four more short stories before I committed my writing to a novel length project.

I had a few rejections after that, but by that time, I took rejection in stride. I would just work harder. Eventually, I found a publisher that consistently liked my work. As my career began to move forward, I found other publishers more in line with my style and genre of writing and found more success. My only regret has been that my parents died before I became published. I think they would have been happy for me because they, above all others, knew how badly I wanted to be able to claim the title of “writer” and they knew my struggles to get worthy of success.

My Published Books (top shelf left of my Minions)

Rejection is hard to swallow. It was especially difficult for me at age 13. But rejection is a great motivator, too. If a person’s spirit tells them they should become a writer, absolutely nothing will stop that spirit as long as the person draws breath, to work toward the goal of becoming published. In fact, it never stops. Writers write because they cannot conceive of not writing. I personally think it’s genetic. Writers just never quit, never give up. We are built tough enough to take rejection and use it to our advantage. If I could explain how we got to be this way I would, but honestly, I don’t have the answer. It’s just who we are.

MYTHS, LEGENDS, AND MIDNIGHT KISSES/ Pennytook (my contribution)

Myths are supposed to be false…but some are terrifying and true.

Pennytook is a war weary Gypsy who longs for peace from the past and wants something meaningful in his life.
Esmeralda, a Gypsy trick rider, has harbored a deep affection for the chieftain, Pennytook, for many years. But her dark secret will never allow him into her life.
A mythological creature is about to unleash its horror and change the destinies of Esmeralda and Pennytook.

A deep ache spread through Pennytook's chest as he walked beside Esmeralda to the shelter where the horses rested. Something was very wrong and it filled him with dread. The night air had grown cold. He wanted to tuck his woolen cloak around her shoulders, but he knew she would refuse. The music of the tribe and the Chergari were distant now as if it were the music of the spirit realm. He shivered at the thought.
Excerpt: 2
As Esmeralda neared the ruins of the Dark Isle, her heart began to race and something like sparks darted all through her body. She realized she had made a terrible mistake leaving the safety of the Plains of Marja to travel to Castyava on her own. Hasty decisions made in anger or fear seldom worked out well.
Sensing the danger around her, she tried to keep to the edge of the forest away from the bubbling cauldron that had once been the vast Lake of Sorrows. The smell of sulfur and evil grew rank in the air. No birds sang from the forest. No crickets made music. No creatures crept along the forest floor or rustled in the limbs of the trees. Something evil menaced from the shadows of the woods. Esmeralda sought a place for cover. Minita could not outrun anyone or anything that might pursue her, but the black steed was strong and had the stamina to endure over a long distance. It was only a small advantage and no advantage at all if whatever stalked her possessed the ability for speed.
Something drew near. She had heard the rumors of monsters and knew the terrible legends told of the Lake of Sorrows and the Niamso who still kept vigil over the lake. Her heart pounded in her chest. She had been foolish to come this way alone. Nothing but pride had made her do such a thing. Pennytook had hurt her and now she might never be able to survive to make things right.
Buy Links: Smashwords   Amazon

Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER and Critical Care nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press. Some of her fantasy and paranormal books may also be found at Publishing by Rebecca Vickery and Victory Tales Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media:


  1. Sarah, I related to every word you said. I, too, started writing early and it has always been the driving force in my life. Ironic, how we can be so happy with a few positive words in a rejection letter from an editor. And what a thrill the first acceptance is. Mine was a short story by a university press. That was when I accepted the "responsibility" of being a writer forever. Like you, I trained for another profession but I kept writing with the goal of published books. And reaching that goal was a mountaintop experience. Like you, for many years I had no contact with any other writers and it was a lonely existence. One of the joys of my life has been meeting and knowing other writers like you. I wish you continued success with your profession that chose you.

    1. Isn't it odd, Linda, how most writers share the same thoughts, feelings, and journey? There must be some kind of writer's code that we are imprinted with at birth that makes us this way. Maybe that's why, when a writer finds another writer to talk to it's like finding the Golden Chalice, like your missing sister or brother that you suddenly found. I bore other people with "writer talk." I start talking about writing and can't seem to stop until I see that glazed over look in their eyes. But when I find another writer to talk to, boy oh boy, we can talk from dusk 'til dawn nonstop and this big bubble of happiness wells up in my chest.
      I am so happy you came and commented, Linda. Thank you.

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  3. Ahhh, that dirty word "Rejection."...I, too, though, "learned to learn" just what was wrong with my ms. I hated the form letters---"this doesn't fit our scope of the magazine,", etc. That is so vague and silly I consider it a slap in the face.
    The first rejection I appreciated was for a contemporary which the editor said, "You have a good story line, a good plot. However, your writing reads like a textbook." Now, that opened up a new big door for me to walk through so I could learn how to write fiction...not dry science research papers. It was like a blessing, I was so thrilled with this rejection. Why? Because a real life person "spoke" directly to me about my writing. Then I knew what my next learning curve would be. Write with emotion.
    Thanks, Sarah, for the reminder that rejections helped mold us into what we are today...hopefully, good authors.

    1. Celia, I remember you mentioning this particular rejection where the editor told you precisely what was wrong. Sometimes the raw truth is just what we need to set us on the right path. Thing is, we have to WANT with all our hearts to walk down that path. Other writers are like my Kindred spirits. They think the way I think and they have passion for what we do in spite of rejections, bad reviews, and snarky commentary from some editors. We do this because we love what we do and we have opened our hearts and minds to taking rejections and turning them into a learning process. It's wonderful to get those rare personal comments in a rejection.
      I really do hope that I am a good author. I certainly know that YOU are.
      Thank you so much for coming by and sharing your thoughts, Celia. I treasure your words.

  4. I can relate to the rejection letter and feeling hurt that they didn't like my story, but you are correct, it helped me to grow as a writer. I never gave up and kept writing. I've improved my skills and met many other authors online because of those rejection letters. lol My first novel was published in 2006 and I received the complimentary book in the mail the day my dad passed away. It was one of the happiest and the saddest day of my life. My dad knew my book would be published in print, but he never got to see it. I'm sure glad you never gave up your dream of becoming published either and kept on writing. It's a part of who we are, isn't it? :)

  5. You are so right, Karen. One thing I am so happy for you about is that your dad knew you were published and was aware of the accomplishment you had worked so hard to achieve was finally won. What a turn of events to receive your copy of your book in print on the day your father died.
    My oldest sister was deeply involved in my writing of The Violin. It's a story about a real member of our family, Pop's older brother who drown when he was only 21. My sister was very sick with COPD as I wrote that story, but she was so happy to help me with details about my grandfather's house that I could not remember. The first publication of that story came out shortly before she died. I sent her the print copy. It made her so happy. At least I did have that. I think Pop would have loved that story because he idealized his brother so much and missed him terribly.
    You definitely have the spirit of a successful writer, Karen, because even adversity and rejection did not deter you from your goal. You possess the writer's code.
    Thank you so much for coming and leaving your very touching comment.

  6. Sarah, what a great post! I wanted to be a writer from the time I could form letters. I always got in trouble for writing my name inside all my books--all THROUGH the books--my name was all I could write at the time, but I thought I was adding to the story! LOL

    I remember sending a poem I thought was just wonderful off to one of those magazines like "Good Old Times" or something like that. Like you, I knew they would call me or send me a letter as soon as they read it and tell me it was the best poem I ever read. I was about 13 or 14, too. Of course, I got the dreaded rejection slip. Oddly, it didn't crush me. I remember thinking, "It's because I'm a kid. They would have taken it if I had been 18!"LOL But when I started getting rejections for my novels...oh me, oh my. I pretended to have a thick skin, but I would go into the bathroom and cry and cry. And you were much stronger than I was, because I cried for a long time, more than once! LOL

    But I just kept on, and when one rejection letter stated I needed to "build a portfolio" I decided to do just that--with shorter stories--and work up to the novels. I had a story accepted by an anthology that was a lot like Chicken Soup, called The Rocking Chair Reader. The company was later bought by Adams Media, along with the Cup of Comfort anthologies that were a sister project to The Rocking Chair Reader stories. I sold several Rocking Chair Reader stories, and those gave me the confidence (and the portfolio!) to submit to Chicken Soup. I had three stories accepted by them, as well, and about that same time TWRP accepted my novel, FIRE EYES.

    By that time, 2009 had rolled around, and I had lost both my parents the year before. Dad had gotten to see the Rocking Chair Reader publications, at least, and he was so proud of those. Like you, I wish they could have seen the other things I wrote, as well, and that Mom had been in her right mind to know what was happening. But that wasn't in the cards.

    You're so right about rejections teaching us and strengthening us along the way. I saw a meme on FB the other day that said something like, "If not for the darkness, we couldn't see the stars." A good way to look at it!

    1. Wow, when I read your journey here I couldn't help but think how similar our roads to publication have been. It's kind of amazing, isn't it. I see we also share the reaction to rejections in that they are capable of teaching us what we need to do to improve our work and help us tell the best story we can.
      I know how busy you are, Cheryl, so I really do appreciate you taking the time to come over and comment on my blog. Thank you so much.

  7. Great post, Sarah. I'm sure every writer remembers the deep disappointment of of their first rejection (I know I do!) - and the euphoria of their first acceptance.

    1. Paula, don't you wish you could keep those feelings of acceptance in a box and open that box any time you needed a boost? As difficult as it is to stay strong after rejection, an acceptance is better than winning the lottery.
      Thank you so much for your comment.


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