Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Embracing Rejection

On the fourth Monday of every month I host a get together of writers in my local community for Pikes Peak Writers. Sometimes we workshop, sometimes we share, sometimes we whine about how unrelentingly difficult it is to get through publishing gateways when you are really trying hard to do everything right. Wait, that’s just me.

I fib. I don’t whine that much. Only a little.

Be that as it may, at last night’s meeting the subject of querying to land representation was a big topic, and therefore REJECTION was a big topic. To be sure, the folks at the table wanted to discuss and double check to make sure they were doing things right, that they had all their bases covered. There was no real whining at all. I promise.

But I kept asking “What kind of rejections are you getting, and how many of them have you gotten?”
I know why I wanted the number – in trying to garner representation, assuming your product is good, sometimes it’s a matter of finding that agent who will fall as much in love with your work as you are, of finding the person who sees its potential and who can commit to it. Given that most of us do not have the luxury of living in New York, it’s a numbers game, at that point – keep sending queries until you find that one agent.

On the other hand, if you are getting rejections they can fall across a spectrum. The impersonal form rejection means you barely made if off the slush pile before you were rejected. Slightly better is the form rejection with a personal note or signature – some indication that an actual human read what you sent. These are pretty standard.

Even better still is a brief note which gives an explanation of sorts – we like it but don’t love it, we love it but don’t think we can sell it, the market is saturated with this, your voice is strong but the story doesn’t quite work, do you have anything else we can look at. These are ‘Good Rejections’ in that they provide a little salve for the sting of another “no” and maybe an indication of things you can do in response.

In the case of actual information, as a writer you might change something about your work that keeps coming up from professionals who are rejecting it. You might shelve a project for a while to re-think it. It may just be a ‘trunk novel’ something which many writers end up with (trunk novel being one which is done but just isn’t good enough or right enough for the market to get published at that time).

Problem is you can’t EXPECT a “Good Rejection” – you can really only ever expect a form, impersonal one. And sometimes rejections really are because your work isn’t ready, isn’t yet good enough. But that’s not a reason to be disheartened – it’s a reason to do whatever you need to in order to change those circumstances.

And here’s the thing….EVERYONE gets rejections. I did some research this morning and found some awesome stuff. Rudyard Kipling was told he didn’t know how to use the English language in a rejection letter. H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds” was called ‘horrid’. JG Ballard was told “The author of this work is beyond psychiatric help.”

If you are feeling the sting of rejection, take a look at this book, from which the above are referenced: “Rotten Rejections: The Letters That Publishers Wish They'd Never Sent,” by Andre Bernard.

Some of these rejections make a form rejection seem kind and desirable.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that the writers who were rejected in the fashions included in this book persevered. They did not give up. They went on to publish in many instances to great acclaim and success.

So, keep sending your work out and embrace the rejections. Know you are following a well-worn path, and one which, if you follow it long enough and with enough dedication and perseverance, can lead to your desired destination.

The Final Snippet: Caution, we are now experiencing a brief interlude of sanity. (I have no notes on this one, no clue where I got it)

Deb Answers: Marissa, in Tampa: Yes, that car makes Your butt look big.


  1. I think it was Ally Condie (author of MATCHED) who gave a great take on rejection. She said "you have to be standing out in the rain to catch lightning." Putting yourself out there is tough, but it's the only way to get where you want to go. Great post!

  2. Thanks, Kristi. I think Ally Condie's way of viewing the rejection game is spot on -- as is yours! ~~D