Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tip o' the Day: Part 4 of 4

My fourth and final installment in this miniseries, mes auteurs, has to do with (à mon avis) the most difficult aspect of the writing life: dealing with rejection.

As I've said before, a rejection of your work—no matter how strongly you identify with it or believe it to be an extension of yourself—is just that: a rejection of your work. It's not an indictment of your character, it's not a dismissal of your accomplishments or promise as an artist, it's not a personal attack. All it means is that the agent or editor in question doesn't want to represent you or pay you based on the work you've created. That's it.

That said: rejection still sucks. Nobody wants to be told something he/she created isn't wanted, especially if he/she spent years crafting it. It can be especially upsetting if one gets relentless form rejections, or (though slightly more encouraging) receives a few partial requests but no invitations to submit the full ms.

The truth is, however, that just as discipline and talent are necessary (though not sufficient) conditions for success as a writer, so, too, is perseverance. Refusing to quit in and of itself won't necessarily get your work published, but without it, you'll be steamrolled over by the inevitable rejections and will never get your writing to the right agent or editor.

Be prepared to get rejected hundreds—if not thousands—of times. Understand that this business is exceptionally susceptible to bias and subjective/individual taste, meaning that simply because your work is rejected, that doesn't mean it isn't good. Remember that a lot of people who are/were much better writers than you were/have been rejected a lot more than you have been. Finally, keep in mind that there are some people who for whatever reason—celebrity, better connections, more money, &c—will have a leg up on you that has nothing to do with their (or your) writing, and you need to be writing as well as possible and submitting your work as persistently as you can in order to partially offset this imbalance.

Stupid? Yes. But, to quote Bender "Bending" Rodriguez, the truth is often stupid.

If anyone has any particularly good methods for dealing with rejection, please post them in the comments—as for me, I find that pinning up the personalized/tiered rejections is encouraging, and the form rejections can make pretty good art projects. In all seriousness, though, I read the rejection, have a snack/drink/nap, and get right back to writing and submitting. What else is there to do?


  1. What can you learn from the rejection?
    Why did this person not want my submission?
    Wrong person?
    Wrong approach?
    Does it meet the, "Why should I pay x dollars to buy this?
    For every rejection there's a reason, and it's probably to be found in the submission, not the rejection.

  2. I think it's easy for those of us who have been around the rejection block (more than) a few times to tell newbies "Shrug it off and keep moving forward", and we forget sometimes just how scary it is to send out that first submission or that first query letter, with the hope and fear thumping against our chest with more force than a subwoofer at a night club.

    Rejections are always going to sting, but after a while, you do figure out how to prevent anaphylactic shock so you can, at the very least, keep breathing.

    And yes, indeed, the truth is often stupid. Love that quote. :)

  3. @Lydia: I'm having the exact opposite experience. Rejection was much easier at the beginning than it is now. Can't just write them off with a "well I'm new at this" hand wave. Gotta suck it up and take it in the gut. That can start to hurt for awhile.

    Given the frequency in which I have new mss to query, I actually delayed my last WIP so I could have a little more time between rounds of rejection.

  4. I made a worksheet of all the agents accepting queries in my genre, plugged in their listed query response times, and mapped out a calendar into 2012. So when a rejection from one agent comes in, I move to the next one down the list. I don't sweat any one rejection because I know what my steps are for another two years - and by that time, there will be new agents out there building their client lists, so I can just start the process over again. Who knows if anyone will ever want to represent this book, but at least I know I don't need to get depressed about the rejections for several more years. It frees me up to enjoy my new writing projects now.

  5. When I get a rejection, I allow myself exactly one minute of pity, then I go and fire off another query.

  6. I keep a separate email account for submissions, venturing into it only when I feel strong enough to step on the landmines inside and pluck the shrapnel out of my thighs afterward.

  7. Like glasseye, I deal with rejection on MY terms. I have a separate email account for queries, so I only check it when I feel ready to receive the great wave of uncaring.

    "Is that the best you can do?" I say back to rejection emails. "You're going to have to try harder if you want me to quit!"

  8. Wow! You guys are way stronger than me. I have a bad habit of taking rejection personally. I have to tell myself over and over that the odds of my book getting published are not good, but they are zero if I don't keep sending it out there. Still, it stings.

  9. The way I deal with rejection is by having so many submissions out there waiting for consideration, I lose track of what is where (in my mind at least), and if I get a rejection I file it away, make a note of it on my list of submissions (astronomically long) and either send them another piece or find somewhere else to send a piece. The only time I feel stung is if I focus on a particular venue/competition. By doing so many submissions I forget the venues/competitions. My expectation/hopes are more or less drowned in a fog of a multitude of submissions.

    I should add that I've had very prestigious magazines accept pieces turned down by lowly competitors. It proves to me that I just have to keep sending stuff out. It will find a home.

  10. I've always enjoyed thinking about writing back a rejection rejection ("I'm sorry, but your rejection does not meet our needs at this time. We receive many fine rejections and can only use a few of them. Keep trying; I'm sure you'll find someone who'll enjoy being rejected by you.").
    But I've never actually done it.