Being rejected is an inevitable part of being a writer. Here are some tips I have come by to help cope with rejection and to cut down the chances of being 'passed' on.
1. Don't take it personally. Ok, ok, I know everyone says this, but they are right. Getting a rejection letter doesn't mean you are a bad person, or that you can't write and your book/story is rubbish.
2. Line up another market and send it out again. Once the rejection email or letter has come in, line up another market that your story would suit and send it out as quickly as possible. Don't even think about it. Remember, this is a business so act professionally and keep sending your stuff out.
3. Give yourself a time to feel sorry for yourself. You're only human, so of course rejection is going to affect you. You've tried not to let it get you down and you've sent out your story again, but you are still feeling a little low. That's perfectly normal. Give yourself a period of time to be self indulgent - anything from an hour to a day but nothing longer, and have a good wallow for being rejected. Then, when your time is up, put your professional hat back on, forget about your rejection and focus on sending out and writing your work.
4. Listen to any comments and act accordingly. It may not be personal, but there is a reason why your story got rejected. It could be because they already had filled their magazine for that month, or the editor read three stories in a similar theme that day or they simply have an objection to zombies, however it could also be because your story wasn't as good as it could be. If the editor takes the time to give you some feedback, listen to it. It is a positive, not a negative. You don't have to agree with the editor says, but do take it seriously and consider it in regard to your story. Are there changes you could make to improve your story in light of these comments? They didn't have to say anything about your work so the fact that they did means you should listen and learn from that experience.
How to avoid rejection
1. Pick your market carefully. There is no point sending a horror story to a romance magazine or vice versa. You may have written a fantastic story but when it comes to finding a market for it no one seems to be interested because it doesn't fit what any of the magazines are looking for. Sometimes it is easier to pick out your market first and write your story accordingly. You will have a higher chance of getting accepted if you tailor your work to a publication. Reading magazines is a good way to find out what your market is like and what sort of stories they accept. It also supports them and keeps them publishing fiction. Sites like Duotrope and Ralan help as well as they have very informative pages on markets and what type of stories they publish. Duotrope also provide you with the statistics of a markets acceptance rate, so you have an idea of how you might fare. The more research you do on what a market is looking for and what stories are new and original, the more likely you are to be accepted.
2. Follow guidelines. I know every article on writing harps on about this, but it is something so simple and yet seems to be ignored by so many writers. It is so important that your submission follows the market guidelines and looks professional. If it doesn't, no matter how good your work is, it will be rejected. Just because a lot of markets now accept electronic submissions doesn't mean you can relax on your formatting. Make sure you tailor your submission to each magazine's requirements. Some want double spaced attachments, others want single spaced pasted into the body of the email. All have their own way of doing it and won't appreciate a deviation from that rule. Give your story the best chance of being read and make sure it follows the guidelines to the letter.
3. Polish your story. Ok, so you have an idea for a story. You have picked out a market and done your research and written your first draft. Now go through it. Is the story written in the best way possible? Are you giving all the important information and non of the unimportant stuff? Does it start at the write time, not too late or too early? Is there lots of repetition in it? Imelda may be small and pretty but you only have to tell us once, not in every paragraph. When you have checked for these errors in writing, read it a few times for spelling and grammatical errors. Read it out loud as well to hear how it sounds. If you find you can't stand to read your story more than a couple of times, it might be an indication that you need to do more work on it.
4. Be proud of your story. Try to make your work the best possible for that story before you submit it. It is all very well to send something out as soon as the rejection comes in, but that only works as long as you know your story is as good as you can make it. The same with getting feedback. It is wonderful when an editor goes to the time to comment on your work, but the only comments you want are 'I loved it!' and that they want to publish it. Put the work in to make sure you can stand by your story and the choices you made while writing it. Then, if it does get rejected, you can happily send it out to another publication knowing that you have done nothing wrong and the market that rejected you was just full up at the time.
5. Act professionally. Format your story correctly, follow guidelines, include your name and address in your cover letter, write a concise and polite letter with your submission. If you are rejected, let it go and move on to the next. Never contact the editor and try to change their mind. If they ask for a rewrite or say they were interested in a part of your story that wasn't fully explored, do work on your story and resubmit as quickly as possible, don't procrastinate. If you haven't heard back from a market in a long time, query them but remember to keep it professional. Thank them for their correspondence with you. If you always behave professionally and respectfully you are more likely to get acceptances, even if you start off with rejections. There is no better way to get blacklisted than to be rude and aggressive.
Finally, DON'T KEEP A REJECTION FILE. I have learned this the hard way. There is nothing more depressing than to read a pile of rejection letters. Keep focused on the positives. Keep a file of your acceptance letters, make a note of your rejections and then chuck the letters.
Also, I know I focused more on the short story market, but the same advice goes for novels and articles.
Good luck and happy writing!