Dealing With Rejection
It can sometimes seem a little crazy. We live in a world governed by metrics. From end of year performance reviews to hospital waiting times, everything in our lives seems quantifiable and gradable. Yet there’s no bar chart when it comes to rejection; no grade with a note that we must try harder. Instead everything is subjective – something can be praised by one person, yet vilified by another. It can be confusing and bewildering for the unpublished author, a landscape of contradiction in which they can feel lost without bearing.
There are those that say that this confusion is just to keep the talented out; somewhere there is a dark cabal dressed in hooded cloaks and gathered round a table deliberately manipulating the landscape lest this unpublished writer be discovered and bring down the very foundations of publishing.
The truth, fortunately, is more mundane – people like different things. The only place you will find people in hooded cloaks is on the cover of fantasy novels, and as for hidden conspiracies, the closest publishing comes is the latest Dan Brown book. However, some unpublished writers will convince themselves this conspiracy is true, creating fantasies born out of the frustration of trying to make it.
The mistake we make in trying to find approval of our work is trying to find universal approval. It’s never going to happen. Think about just those people closest to you and the different views you have on music, film, books and other art. The trick instead is to find a publisher, reader, editor or agent who will champion your work and give you the validation you so often need. But rejection after rejection can be hard on the soul. You pour your very being into a story, craft it to a point that it is beyond what you thought you were capable of, only to send it off and then…
You wait. Your mind plays tricks on you. They must have read it by now. If they hated it they would have replied by now. If they loved it they would have replied by now. Expected response times pass, you may even forget about your submission until one day there’s a self-addressed envelope on your door mat or email reply in your inbox. This is it, you think. This is where my writing career starts. It could be a rejection. It probably is a rejection.
You take a big breath and read the response.
More often than not, it’s a stock response: “Thank you for your submission but unfortunately it did not work for us.” All that waiting, all that anguish and patience… for this? There’s part of you that wants to rage against the system, that wants to take to your blog or favourite forum and rage. How is this fair? The system is screwed up. It needs to be changed.
If you are wise though, you will restrain your frustration; you will realise that you’re still smarting from the pain of the rejection, that tomorrow you will wake and see things in greater context. Today is a day for ice cream and self-pity, today is not a day for diatribes against the publishing industry.
Admitting to yourself that rejections hurt can often soften the blow. Of course you are going to feel down, who doesn’t? But just because one person didn’t like the story, it doesn’t mean that the next won’t love it. Allow yourself the day to feel miserable and have your confidence knocked. Then get up the following day, refreshed and ready to enter into the trenches once again. Writing, especially when it comes to rejection isn’t about never getting thrown from the horse, it’s about getting back on It once you have.
If you are lucky, you might get an individualised response. You will, even if you tell yourself not to, scrutinise every word, searching for hidden meaning. “You write very well,” can suddenly mean a hundred and one different things. You need to learn to step away and take those comments at face value. Or failing that, give it to a neutral friend to read and put in terms you understand. An external viewpoint can sometimes bring some rationality.
Go read up about your favourite authors. The vast majority of them will have tales of rejection that far outweigh yours. The more you read the more you will understand how rejection and, more importantly, persistence is a common theme amongst all published writers.
And if the lack of any meaningful metrics bothers you, think about this: with every story that gets rejected by every editor so the chances of someone saying yes will increase. Each piece of writing will inform the next – either in style or craft. Editors will come to recognise your name. You will learn and improve.
But most of all, develop your own rejection ritual. Stephen King would hang his rejections on a nail in the wall. Frank L Baum kept a journal of all his rejections which he called a “record of failure”. Do something that gives you time to be miserable but then allows you to forget about it and move on. Find your own metric that lets you chart your progress whether it is number of submissions made a month or the number of rejections you’ve received. Be creative. And remember to wear those rejections as a badge of pride rather than take them as a sign you will never be published.
And whatever you do, do not take to internet to complain that you think that publishing is deliberately trying to hold you back. It may not be true, but publishers have long memories.