Several months ago, I started a discussion in the Fiction Writers/Writer's Digest online community asking, "How do you handle rejection?" I received several comments, and originally posted this article back in June. For those who participated in the discussion but never saw the blog post, here it is again. To those seeing it for the first time, hope it's beneficial, as well as encouraging!
Into every writer's life, some rain must fall--though sometimes it may feel more like a deluge." Robert Masello from Robert's Rules of Writing, Rule 55: Get Rejected
As writers, we must accept rejection. If we're not prepared for it, we don't need to be writing. As Robert Masello says, "You will send your work out--to agents, editors, publishers--and it will come back to you like a boomerang. Turned down, passed on, rejected. It's a rite of passage, and the sooner you make your peace with it, the better off you'll be."
It's important not to take rejection personally. It's your work that's being rejected, not you as a person. Agents, editors and publishers are concerned about the bottom line. They want to make money, and they want you to make money, too. If you're not a right fit for them, it's a lose/lose situation. Author turned agent Jennifer Lawler says, "My problem isn't how much bad writing crosses my desk. The problem is how much good writing I see. I have to figure out which of these good projects is most likely to sell."
Recently, I asked writers from a couple of online writing groups how they handle rejection, and I received a variety of responses. I'm happy to report that no sociopaths replied, so no mention of dart boards, voodoo dolls or stalking appeared--PHEW!
But before I detail those comments, I'd like to mention a gentle reminder. Respect is the most important element of any business transaction. Respect equals the Golden Rule: treat others as you would have them treat you.
Sending a nasty email in response to a rejection letter won't do anything to endear you to that agent/editor/publisher or their agent/editor/publisher friends. And detailed blogging about your rejections and expletive filled opinions about those who rejected you won't get you far. You'll establish a reputation, but not exactly the one you want.
Here are a few other points to keep in mind. Regardless of how many rejections you get, keep persevering! Bestselling author Bob Mayer says he got published because he submitted to everybody! But do your homework. Make sure that whoever you're submitting to takes the type of project you're offering.
There's someone out there who will love your story just as much as you do. You wouldn't want someone representing you who felt only so-so about your work. Just like you wouldn't want to marry someone who only felt so-so about you!
Sometimes, as author Holly Jacobs says about one of her books rejected more than once, "...it was a matter of finding the right desk on the right day for the right line." This particular book, Everything But a Groom, became one of Booklist's Top 10 Romances in 2008.
If someone is kind enough to offer constructive criticism in a rejection letter, by all means heed the advice! One rejection letter I received (the most crushing ever) offered some excellent instruction and made me a better writer.
Suggested changes usually apply to mechanics, rather than story elements. Agents are hesitant to explain why they reject something regarding your story. Jennifer Lawler explains, "This business is subjective; what I think is wrong with your novel may be what the next agent thinks is right with it." Here’s one last tip: Do not email an agent and ask why you were rejected. As busy as they are, they don’t have time to answer you!
When I receive a rejection letter, I file it away and decide who I should query next. Here's some encouraging insight from other writers on rejection. I promised anonymity to all respondents so I took the liberty of creating new identities for them. Which identity do you best relate to?
"I run to my writer friends for comfort, advice and 'been-there-toos.'" The Seeker
"I framed my first non-form rejection letter. Now I just file the others away." The Sentimentalist
"My best idea is to avoid rejection and take control of my own destiny." The Optimist
"I get to work on rewrites. Nothing lights a fire under my behind more than someone telling me I'm not good enough!" The Fire Marshal
"I used to get really depressed when I got rejected. Now I just shrug and look for someplace else to send the story." The Realist
"I've worked in competitive environments all my life: air personality/operations manager/account manager/radio talk show host, TV sports anchor, etc. Slumps are part of those businesses, and so too are rejections from agents and publishers. You can't dwell on them, you have to learn from them. 'No' is just a word, losing is not a lifestyle." The Coach
"Just got one yesterday that put me in the pits. My guy took me out to dinner and stopped by the candy shop to buy me fudge." The Foodie
"In the spreadsheet I maintain to keep track of which book went where and to whom, I make entries as appropriate, put the correspondence in the trash and go on. Emotional energy is too precious to waste on something you can't change." The Detail Specialist
"If you are referring to that pile of paper in the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet pushed into the corner of a back bedroom closet, that's my wall paper collection. I simply find the minimal use of ink on the page breathtaking. It will make perfect wall covering for my bathroom. And for the hallway, I'm going to use the ones with the nice little hand written notes at the bottom. Those will make some great conversation. And when I run out of paper from that pile, I'll pull out the big guns. These are the ones that say "I just love the piece but I'll have to pass." Those will be framed and line the kitchen back splash." The Interior Decorator
"I found that in the process of becoming a serious writer, the rejections didn't mean so much after a while. It became a part of the process. Now when I get a rejection, I send that piece out to the next publisher on the list." The Perseverer
"I tend to over think things. There's no way I can know the reason for the rejection. So I just ignore it and move on. Getting better at the craft is a personal experience. The process of getting published has absolutely nothing to do with the journey of becoming a better writer." The Philosopher
"The way I look at rejection is through a 'lock and key' comparison. A new rejection letter is just a key that doesn't fit my lock. The next agent or publisher might be just the right key, so I don't get discouraged, I just keep searching until I find the right fit." The Locksmith
"I just submitted my first proposal, and though I'm encouraged, I'm prepared for the infamous 'no.' If it's rejected, I'll tweak if/where necessary and send to the next agent/publisher. I'm always up for a challenge." The Fearless
To that last response one writer said, "When your book is finally accepted by a publisher, and is finally in print, and you get a few, or many good reviews, you are going to ask why it was rejected so many times to begin with. There is no answer to that question. I know because I am going through that right now."
I hope you’ve been inspired by these words of wisdom, advice and humor from fellow writers on confronting the “Dreaded R!”
How do you handle rejection?
Tweet me @:maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!