Hallelujah Rejection!

Rejection My SASE was the only piece of mail in my post office box. I figured I already knew what it said, but I opened it anyway.

“Thanks for letting me see this story, but it just isn’t right for me at this time. Please try me again with your next story.” On stationery from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Signed with a big, blue “K” above the name Kristine Katherine Rusch.

Well, hell, I thought, that wasn’t half bad. Standing beside the wall of post boxes, 1 read it over another half-dozen times. Hell, that wasn’t bad at all. Kris Rusch, an editor with inarguably high standards, thought enough of my work to be willing to read more of it. Not only that, she’d taken the time in person to let me know it. Why, hell, that was positively great) By the time 1 walked out the post office doors, I was ready to send Kris Rusch a thank you note.

Rejoice at a rejection letter? Makes sense from my perspective. Because when it comes to rejection, I’m a connoisseur. I have cause to be; I’m an insurance agent.

In life insurance, mastering rejection isn’t just part of the job – it is the job. And the rejection you get when you make an unsolicited pitch in insurance is directly, purely personal. Consider a couple of examples:

Call One:

Me, upbeat, cheerful: “Hi, this is Bonnie Milani, with ABC Company.”

Prospect, uncertain: “ABC? Is this life insurance?”

I go through my pitch ending with the suggestion we meet. 1 spend the next fifteen seconds listening to her think about it.

“No, 1 don’t think so, dear,” she says.

That’s good—she’s still thinking. We end with the agreement that I’ll call her again next month. I note my follow-up file and move to call number two.

Me, upbeat, cheerful: “Hi, this is Bonnie Milani, with ABC Company.”

Prospect: “F-ck you!” Click.

Now that’s rejection. Cold calling is the insurance industry’s equivalent of unsolicited manuscripts, yet it’s hard to imagine an editor adding that phrase to the standard note. But for new agents, rejection is the response to ninety-seven out of one hundred calls. Of the three prospects who actually set appointments, two are uninsurable. Your pay-off is that one in a hundred calls. And if your presentation is not utterly convincing, if you have not done your homework, if you have not listened to your prospect’s needs, then that one sale is going to the
agent next door.
You survive by asking yourself the same question a fledgling writer asks: How much do I really want this? Enough to learn the techniques required to sell? Enough to admit my mistakes and correct them? Enough, finally, to step over my ego and objectively evaluate my own performance? If you answer any of those questions “no” then you’d best find yourself a happier way of life.

It’s a hard attitude to adopt, especially with yourself. In insurance, it’s called a sates attitude. In writing, it’s simply called “professional.” It’s also the single most important tool you have: it’s your attitude, your perspective on your chosen profession that gives you the power to convert rejection to sales. Because when you look at a rejection slip from a professional standpoint, you step past the disappointment to a cold, clear-headed analysis of what you need to do to turn the next submission into a sale. You realize that whether you succeed in getting published depends primarily on how hard you’re willing to work at it.

How? To illustrate, let’s recast that first prospect above as the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. My first step in responding to the rejection letter was to cut through the disappointment. There’s a saying in insurance used to teach new agents how to respond to challenging prospects: “Do not engage.” It means, keep your head—don’t let your feelings control you, they’ll only cost you the sale. In writing terms, that translates as: don’t decide the editor who rejected your work is either illiterate or prejudiced. Don’t throw the rejection note away before you’ve thought it through. Use the saying as a mantra, if you need; recite the phrase over and again until your head gains control: ‘do not engage, do not…’ With enough practice, you’ll be able to condense disappointment to a single, “Oh, shit!” Trust me.

Now you’re ready to ask yourself the questions that count.

Question one: “Was it the right magazine?” Did you check the guidelines of The Magazine of F and SF? Did you read the magazine to get a feel for Kris Rusch’s tastes? In short, did you do your market research? If the answer’s ‘no’, then you’ve established one step you must take before you send that story out again.

Question two: “Was my approach professional?” Did you follow standard submission format- double-spaced, single-sided pages, one-inch margins, etc.? Was your cover letter courteous, succinct and properly addressed?

If your answer’s ‘no’ here, then pick up a self-help book on how to get published and read it before you even think about submitting elsewhere.

I answered questions one and two without needing to think. Which meant I had to ask the one that really hurts: “Was my story of professional quality?”

Of course any story you send out is your very best—but you’re asking someone to pay you for the right to publish it. And the woman footing the bill has the right—indeed, the obligation—to set standards of quality which guarantee her readers their money’s worth. Your story must meet the same standards that make you willing to spend your own money to read somebody else’s story.

So I disengaged my ego and tried to look at my story with a stranger’s eyes. As I got into it, I felt a familiar sense of excitement building. It really was a good story. It really was a tight match with Kris Rusch’s guidelines. So why wasn’t it a sale? Invigorating question. Whether I converted that rejection to acceptance was totally up to me, now. Because behind Kris Rusch’s rejection lay a truth of immense value: my story was almost good enough. All I had to do was eliminate the ‘almost’ and I’d have a sale. Somewhere. By the time I got home, I was whistling in anticipation.

Sing “Hallelujah, Lord,” we are on our way!

Bonnie Milani is the author of Home World. You can learn more about her and her book at www.homeworldthenovel.com and on Facebook.