I was going to wait to do this post. I had planned on talking about workshops and conferences this week. But I got the first rejection on my new book on Tuesday, so it seems like an appropriate time to discuss it.
Rejection fucking sucks, but it’s also an unavoidable part of the creative life (unless you’re doing this for fun and never plan on showing a single soul your work), so you might as well get comfortable with the idea. Every single writer who is now a household name has experienced rejection, and every single writer looking to break into the business must be prepared for it. You’re going to get rejected when querying agents. You’re going to get rejected when your agent pitches editors. Hell, even when you get published, the public may reject you and you’ll get a nice collection of bad reviews on Amazon. It is the nature of the beast: something as subjective as storytelling is never going to please everyone. Get used to it, buddy.
Here are some things to remember when it comes to rejection:
Rejection is rarely personal.
…so don’t take it as such. Unless you’re a raging asshole in your query letter, the agent doesn’t dislike YOU. It’s all about the work. Hell, sometimes an agent or editor even likes/loves your book, but they just don’t see a place for it in the market, or there’s something similar on their list already. Remember with each stab in the heart — I mean rejection letter — that this is a business. You are going to get rejected for business-y reasons. It doesn’t make it hurt less, but it’s nice to think, while you’re curled up on the floor weeping on the stack of manuscript pages splayed out around you like a halo, that you are still a totally charming individual. *sniffle*
Rejection is nothing to be ashamed of.
I am currently coming to terms with this, actually. The first book I had out on submission got something like 23 rejections. I only ever talked about them with my agent and my husband. Once in awhile I’d mention one or two of them to a trusted friend, but for the most part I kept the pain inside. I felt ashamed. And whenever anyone asked about how the book was doing out in the Big Scary World of Publishing, I’d choke up and stammer “f-fine.” It didn’t matter that a good many of my rejections complemented my writing, and said that I was clearly talented but that the book wasn’t right for them for a number of reasons. Somehow I couldn’t get past the shame to see those really-important signals that I was on the right path. BUT NO MORE. With the first rejection of Saviors (the book that went out on submission this month), I have decided to OWN my rejections, because you know what? IT MEANS I AM A REAL WRITER. I am not only writing, but I am putting my work out there. I am trying. I am taking the next crucial step towards making this a career. I am FUCKING SERIOUS ABOUT THIS. And I am joining the ranks of all of the authors who persevered through rejection to eventually become published.
This post from Chuck Wendig made me feel a lot better. I read it while researching for this post, so I had already decided to own my rejections, but he allowed me to feel actual pride in them. I am a badass motherfucker and I’ve got SCARS.
Rejection can help you get better.
You’re going to get some rejections that are about as helpful as a harpoon through your face. Form rejections, rejections that are rejections simply because the agent or editor never responded. But some of them can help you become a better writer. Some of the rejections I got for Book 1 (which is actually the second book I wrote, but the first book I wrote got absolutely nowhere so we’ll call that one Book 0) were that it had one foot in YA and one foot in adult. So when I started Book 2, I went all-out and made it firmly adult. Like…not just TV-MA adult but HBO-kidscoveryourfuckingeyes-adult. I found my voice, and the process of doing so improved the quality of my writing. I’d also gotten some comments on Book 1 that the pacing was off, but the rejection for Book 2 said that the pacing was excellent. So even though it was a rejection, I still took that compliment to heart. I’m getting better!
Everyone gets rejected.
I said it above and I’ll say it again. Everyone. Gets. Rejected. This knowledge should make your rejections a TAD easier to bear. It does for me. You know what I love doing when I’m feeling particularly down about my collection of rejection emails? I like to look at this website:
Or really just anything I find about authors who were rejected X number of times before they became This Writer That Everyone Fucking Knows About.
Rejection doesn’t mean that your book isn’t good or that you don’t have the writing skill necessary to make this a career. Always remember that it is subjective. I keep trying to get my friends to read one of my favorite books because it’s a fucking masterpiece, and several have tried and failed to “get into it.” Agents and editors are no different. What one hates, one will love. You just have to stick with it to find the agent or editor who “gets you.” Of course, you must listen to the rejections themselves. If all of the agents or editors are rejecting for similar reasons, it might be time to revise. If you’re getting rejected left and right and all of the reasons are different, at some point you might want to put that book away and start a new one. I’ve done that, and it is rough and it sucks and there was a ton of crying and stress-eating involved, but it was an important decision that helped me improve. Sometimes you just need to move on.
I’m going to link you to another Chuck Wendig post, because he talks about that: From Bile to Buttercream
Actually, he pretty much says everything I’m trying to say, but better! Read it. It’ll help. It helped me.
One last thing before I go:
It gets easier, in a way. My first rejections were really difficult. Then, my skin toughened up, and my heart hardened a bit. Not so hardened that I stopped hoping, but just enough that I was able to set aside the pain and see the positives. The compliments these editors were giving me. The lessons hidden inside the spears sticking out of my soul. I started to understand that not every editor will be “right” for me, and that’s okay. Rejection will never stop hurting, but some of them hurt less. The near-misses, the “it was so close” rejections hurt the worst, especially if I like the editor, they like the book and my writing, and it was one seemingly arbitrary thing that made them pass. But that just means I’m on the right track. I’m going down the correct path. If I keep working at it, I will eventually succeed. Never forget that if you keep at it, if you keep improving, it will happen. It might take longer than you’d hoped, but it’ll happen.
In the meantime, be proud of your scars, you badass motherfucker.