Rethinking Rejection

So you’ve done the work. You’ve poured your blood, sweat, and tears into a manuscript you’re convinced will change the world. You’ve listened to your critique group. You’ve altered, changed and rearranged your words to put them in the perfect order to get your story across. You’ve typed, deleted, and re-typed the words “The End” and are now ready to receive all the acolytes you feel this work deserves. The manuscript has been in the mail for days, weeks, and months. One after the other, the replies come in. “Sorry, we don’t….” and “This isn’t a fit for…” and “We appreciate your interest, but…”

Rejection letter after rejection letter fills your mail box and inbox. At first it feels like there was a mistake; they didn’t get it. Oh, well. They were just the first to miss out on your brilliance. The same ones who will later cringe when your biography is published and their name is listed as the first to reject perfection. However, the steady stream of passes soon confirms it. If anyone actually looked once, they’re definitely not looking twice. It’s official.

You have been rejected.

Whether it’s personalized or a form letter, rejection destroys the marrow of life-creating force you thought you wielded with finesse. It’s the glue that fastens you to the sofa and your hand to the remote. It’s the force that causes you to look with contempt upon your laptop, notebooks, and stupid index card plot structure pinned to the wall of your workspace. Really there’s not enough ways to express how much rejection sucks.

I can’t speak for most people. Hell, I can barely speak for myself. But breaking through that wall of rejection is hard business. Who wants to write when no one wants to read it? Who wants to go through all that trouble? Who would do that?

Me. That’s who.

About six years ago I got one of my favorite authors to sign a copy of his book for me with some writing advice. This is what he wrote:

“Get used to rejection.”

I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed and pissed. That could be because at that time I hadn’t submitting anything yet. Although it wouldn’t be much longer.

I submitted my work to critique groups. They picked. It. Apart.

I submitted to contests. They kindly took my entry and/or submission fee and said to try again next time.

I submitted to magazines. They took all the effort to mail me a photocopy of a rejection letter that had little to do with what I sent them.

Rejection came at me from all angles. It crippled me as a writer for quite a while, I’m ashamed to admit. Shit, even remembering that time has got me wanting to fold up the laptop and call it a night.

Now this is the part where I’m supposed to tell you how I turned it around. How I sold my first work. How I over came the dreaded rejection.

But I can’t.

To date, I still haven’t had an official sale. I haven’t won anything of particular note. Although, I have had some good critiques since then.

Getting past rejection is more about getting past a state of mind. If you look at that rejection letter as hate mail or as a plea to stop what you’re doing, you’re going to eventual quit trying. Instead you need to look at it like areas of opportunity.

If you’re lucky enough to get a personal response in a rejection letter, take it into consideration. Your work was at least good enough for someone to suggest how to make it a little better. That critique group that tore your work apart? I hope you took notes. They’re giving you valuable feedback.

JimBautographOh, I should also mention that the autograph had more to it. It went on to say, “It doesn’t mean ‘no.’ It means ‘not yet.'” It’s this second part you need to focus on. That simple shift in thinking can keep you from hitting a wall. Keep you moving forward in reaching your goals.

As for me, I’m still getting my “not yet” letters, but I’m not as bothered as I used to be. I often wonder if the publishing industry is ready for me, and it helps to think what that answer is.

Not yet.

Whatever helps us sleep at night, right?