It’s hard to know how to start this post. I could say that rejection is part of the publication process (which is true), or that it can make you a better writer (also true). But right now, if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you didn’t get into Alpha, and that it hurts a bit. So if you’re one of those people, you have my sympathy.
So. What are you going to do next? Here are some ideas:
Look at your application story. While it is not the worst thing ever written (that would be “The Eye of Argon”), chances are that it could use some improvement… most stories can, after all.
Does your protagonist make interesting choices? Does your villain have motivations for his or her actions, or is s/he just evil for the sake of being evil? Are your grammar and punctuation solid? Is your setting vivid and original, or does it look a bit too much like (for example) Middle Earth? Does your plot make sense, with one event leading naturally into the next?
These are hard questions to ask yourself, I know. But there’s nothing quite like the feeling of taking a story that wasn’t holding together and making it work. It means you’re getting better.
Write another story. Then another. Every time you write a new story, you’re taking all the experience you gained from the stories you wrote before, and applying it to making the new story even better. You’ll still make mistakes, but hopefully they’ll be new and different mistakes, and you’ll learn from those, and so on. As with most skills worth learning, all the advice in the world, while very useful, can’t substitute for just sitting down and doing it.
Read short stories that are being professionally published. Lots of SF magazines make their stories available for free online. Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, Tor.com, and Fantasy are great places to start. Reading successful stories is a great way to learn about plot, character, setting, structure, theme… you name it. If something about a story you read doesn’t work for you, try to figure out why, and then learn from that, too.
Naturally, you don’t have to do any or all of these things right away. But if you at least do them eventually, you’re taking a huge step forward. Don’t let your rejection get you down. Make it work for you, and make your writing stronger.
Okay, I’ve talked enough. You tell me: when you face writing-related rejection (whether from Alpha or otherwise), what do you do?
P.S. If you don’t know what the title means, check out The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.