The *good* kind of rejection letter

Yesterday afternoon, I finally heard back about my story. I was riding in a school elevator, by myself, about to start my lunch break. There was the e-mail, with the Queers Destroy Science Fiction subject line. And the end of the subject line was cut off (because this was on my phone), so I couldn’t know for sure, but anxiety tied my stomach into knots as I clicked on it.

It’s all a bit of a blur now, but I think I skimmed it before I read it. And then, I went back, and read it again. Two facts stood out in quick succession:

1) This was a rejection letter

2) Seanan McGuire liked my story

The anxiety didn’t go away. In fact, I started trembling. I think I was feeling so many things that I just didn’t know what to feel. I knew what I *wanted* to feel, but, at that moment, all I felt was shaky. It was like that time in shul when they asked me to sing a line of a high holiday prayer from my seat (I think it was a verse of Keter Melucha for those who will get the reference), and I was anxious right up until the moment when I sang. And then, as soon as I was done, I started to tremble for a minute before my body calmed down. So this reaction? This was like that? My performance was over. The judge had reached her verdict. And it was going to take time for me to process what it meant to me.

And, slowly but surely, I did calm down, and the feeling I wanted to feel is what I did, and still do feel. It’s like winning second prize in your very first competition. There’s that sliver of disappointment, because you were so close to that gold medal, but mostly, there’s the pride and satisfaction that comes with having done so well.

This is the second time I’ve submitted a short story for a publication, but it’s the first time I’ve really felt that my story deserved to be given serious consideration. My first rejection letter hurt. I was in a funk for an hour or so, until I managed to distract myself and move on. (It helped that I was at a science fiction convention at the time.) I think this is partly because the rejection came so quickly, because it was so obvious that my story wasn’t good enough, that it hadn’t made it past that first level of consideration, otherwise known as the slush pile. And I think part of the reason it felt so terrible was because, deep down, I knew the slush readers were right to reject it.

But this story felt different. This was the first time I not only submitted a story, but really believed in it. This one, in my mind, really stood a chance.

When I submitted it, I didn’t want my hopes to rise too high. So, while I dreamed of having my story published, I set a lower goal: If I could make it past the slush pile, that would be enough. If Seanan McGuire sent me a rejection letter that came from her, and not from her slush readers, well, at least I could say I got an email from one of my favorite authors, even if that email said, “no,” right?

I didn’t quite achieve my dream — not yet, anyway — but I certainly did achieve my goal. And every time I look at that rejection letter, or even think of it, I can’t help but grin. And now, I’m even more eager to submit another story.

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