Congratulations! You’ve received another rejection.

Posted on 05 April 2014

When you get a rejection, is your immediate reaction to shout “Yes!” before opening a spreadsheet so you can triumphantly record that rejection in all its “Sorry, not for us” glory?

No? Then you, my friend, are not participating in a literary rejection contest.

I started a rejection contest last fall for fiction writers in Bowling Green’s MFA program. The premise is simple: Pay $5 to enter, track all fiction rejections received in a specific time period, and the writer who receives the most rejections during that time frame wins the pot of money. We record our rejections in a Google doc spreadsheet, where we also share the names of the journals that rejected us to help other participants consider new markets.

We only have a few weeks remaining before the contest period ends, and it looks like I have almost no chance of winning the prize. (And yes, losing a contest designed around failure is a sort of prize of its own.) But even if I didn’t send out quite enough stories to be a real contender, the contest did persuade me to submit more than I would have otherwise. I’ve been in a dry spell on the submission front – I seem to be in a producing mode rather than a submitting mode, which is normal for me and not at all a problem, but the contest encouraged me take the time to submit a few of my polished stories that are ready to go. As a result, I’ve received two acceptances.

Of course, contests like this one can have a few downsides. There’s always a chance that even a friendly, low-stakes rejection contest could encourage writers to submit work that isn’t ready to journals that aren’t appropriate for that work. So if you’re interested in starting a rejection contest of your own, make sure the participants are ready to play in good faith and with good sense. (That wasn’t a problem here; the writers in this program really know their stuff.) I also wonder if, in the future, it might be fun to make writers subtract a rejection or two from their numbers every time they get an acceptance. For example, one frontrunner in our contest might end up receiving both the most rejections and the most acceptances, which is actually kind of wonderful, but could it take the joy out the contest when the biggest loser is also the biggest winner? I don’t know.

Assuming the other writers in the program are interested next year, I hope to continue this contest and carry the torch of rejection into 2015. Because even though I’ll surely lose this round and probably the next one, the fact that the contest has changed my reaction to rejections from disappointment to excitement is priceless. So I encourage you to give it a shot, too — gather your closest writing buddies, whip up some rules, and let the rejections roll. Worst of luck to you all.

Photo: Sean MacEntee


4 responses to Congratulations! You’ve received another rejection.

  • Rose Karam says:

    Laura, This is a great positive twist on something that can be shared and rejoiced in, rather than be lonely and humbling. I look forward to seeing how the biggest winner/biggest loser aspect develops next year. Like they say, you never know until you know!

  • Kathy says:

    Lots of writers, including me, need encouragement to submit. This is a funny and useful idea.

  • Sarah W says:

    This . . . is awesome.

    And lord knows, I could use the cash.

  • margosita says:

    In grad school a friend and I had a similar contest. If a story got rejected the other one bought you a beer. If you it got accepted, you bought the other one a beer. This doesn’t help with the quantity of submissions, but maybe quality?

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