Writers’ rejections

There’s an interesting piece in the The Atlantic today on writers’ rejections. It touches on that idea we’ve all heard thousands of times, in different forms – of writers who were accepted after dozens of rejections. It’s a heartwarming story in one way – it carries that spark of encouragement for people who are struggling with writers’ rejection slips. It says that this is normal, part of the process.

The writer in The Atlantic argues that there’s more to the story; that for every time an editor or publisher says they ‘discovered’ a writer, in fact it was often the writer beating down the doors and finally being let in. More importantly, they focus on the different rates of publication, reviewing, and access for writers of different backgrounds. It’s an important issue.

I’ve always found that story of heart warming of acceptance after rejections interesting for another reason. Specifically, I think that there’s a strong bias in the data. We hear the stories of those who were successful; but I think writers don’t tell the stories, and the media likely wouldn’t publish the stories, of people who write for years, receive hundreds of rejections, and then die unpublished, their work buried in old boxes and hard drives.

I’ve looked for statistics on manuscript submissions in a few places. Not very hard, admittedly, but I haven’t found anything. But I suspect the number of people who write extensively and go unpublished may be so vast that if we were to learn a genuine story from the statistics, rather than cherry picking anecdotes, it would be that the idea of writing with the hope of getting published is statistically implausible – that persistence may not even be a good predictor of success.

That’s a pessimistic outlook, and for what it’s worth I think good writing does require persistence. And I also think there are good, important reasons to write entirely apart from the hope of publication and financial success. I don’t mean that anyone should stop writing. But I think the ‘just keep submitting’ stories are sometimes a little too happy, and more importantly they don’t really match the real world. But I’d love to hear otherwise – let me know if you’ve god great data?


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