The Null State

“Dear Writer:
You stink. Your writing stinks. Go take a bath. You’ll never publish again.
-The Editors”

Did you ever get a rejection letter like the above? I have!

Well, actually, no, it wasn’t written in exactly those words. It was more like this:

“Dear Author: Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, it does not meet our needs at this time.”

But I know they really hated it, and their words crushed my dreams and destroyed my future.

Um, again, actually, no. They didn’t destroy my dreams, and rejection isn’t really a loss, no matter how it feels.

Firstly, an editor can’t destroy my dreams. They’re my dreams. They’re God’s plans for me. No editor is that powerful. (I apologize to any editors who may be reading this, but it’s true.) I didn’t send my dreams or God’s plans to the editor: I sent a manuscript.

Secondly, rejection is not a loss except of potential. The “null state” of a manuscript — that is to say, the default or ordinary state — is “not published”. It gets written, and without any input of energy, it sits.

When you put energy into a manuscript, it becomes a submission, flying out to an editor for consideration. (We could argue that the null state of a submission is to sit on an editor’s desk, but that’s too involved for such a short weblog entry.) If the editor accepts it, the submission is transformed into published work.

If the editor rejects it, the manuscript simply returns to the null state. In other words, it’s no worse off than before. It wasn’t being published then, and it’s not being published now.

No destroyed dreams, no actual loss. At worst you’ve inconvenienced your mailman or some electrons, but you can give the mailman chocolate at Christmas.

I used to live in the Null State, but it wasn’t very exciting. That’s why, in 2004, I got tired of being a failed writer and started submitting again. It takes more energy, but it’s something I highly encourage.


  1. Tanja Cilia

    Oh, yes, I have one of those, I treasure it…. all I did yto merit it was ask why the poems in a particular site were all so sad… and I sent a couple that were not…

    Dear Tanja, Thank you so much for thinking of []. We receive so many wonderful submissions, and have so few slots, that we are often forced to turn away very good material. This is one of those times. I wish you the best of luck placing your work in another publication. Best Wishes,[]

    Oh, well. I wrote and told her it was the nicest no I had ever received – because it was the only one…

  2. philangelus

    Woah — I think that’s *exactly* the rejection I received from Mothering Magazine on a poem about a month ago!

  3. Sparki

    I guess the good thing about having a 22-year career as an advertising copywriter is that I got rejections like that 50 times a day, so they don’t bother me a bit. Rather, they kind of spur me on to be more careful about what I submit.

    Now I only get rejections like that once or twice a week. See how I’ve improved!!!!

  4. Tanja Cilia

    Ah, but maybe you are sending more work to more decent people…. law of averages and all that. Or maybe like the rest of us you are older and wiser.

  5. Ivy

    Well said. I think the thing that woke me to the “editors are human” mindset, not perfect in their knowledge of what is and is not a good story was a rejection I got for a Set short story. It came with feedback and the funny thing was, three of the four editors liked it. The fourth killed it. So sometimes the trick is just to find the right editor.

  6. philangelus

    You’re right: editors are human beings, but they tend to pick up this etherial aura becuase of the way we have to (in effect) chuck our stories over the wall, then wait for Word From On High, which is chucked back over the wall with the force of a Fiat.

    I’m not a stranger to one well-placed individual on an editorial team killing a project the editor is enthusiastic about. It’s happened to me twice so far. :b

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