Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Rejection. It’s a subject few writers want to think about much less discuss, which may be why it’s shrouded in so much secrecy and why there are so many myths about it. As someone who’s collected enough rejection notices to paper a good-sized room, I consider myself somewhat of an expert on the subject, and so I invite you to join me for my attempt to demystify rejection and to debunk some of the myths. Grab a latte, a cup of tea, a piece of chocolate – whatever soothes you – and let’s go.
Myth #1: It won’t happen to me. I used to believe this one too. Even though I knew the statistics, I was certain they wouldn’t apply to me. Of course the first editor who read my manuscript would buy it. Wrong. Instead of the joyful “I want to buy your manuscript” call I’d expected, I received a form rejection in the mail. And, like all form rejections, it was singularly unhelpful. I had no way of knowing whether the editor thought my manuscript was the worst prose in the English language or whether she’d bought something similar the previous day. To say that I was devastated is an understatement. While that was the only rejection for that particular manuscript, it was the first of many rejections I’ve received. Rejection is an unfortunate part of most writers’ lives.
Myth #2: It doesn’t hurt. We’ve all heard the adage, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” If that were true, rejection wouldn’t hurt, but it does. Why? There are a couple reasons why rejection hurts so much. The first is that we’ve sent something of value to that editor or agent, something that’s a part of us. Rejecting it is like rejecting us. Another reason is that as writers we’re empathetic. We understand and feel others’ emotions. That’s wonderful when it comes to writing stories that touch readers’ hearts, but the same empathy means that we tend to be thin-skinned where our own emotions are concerned. There’s no sugar-coating it. Rejection hurts.
Myth #3: It’s not personal. That’s true, from the editor’s view. For an editor or agent, reading manuscripts is a job. So is rejecting those that don’t fit the publisher’s current needs. Remember that editors want to buy manuscripts, but their job is to select those stories that have the greatest chance of succeeding in the publisher’s chosen market. That doesn’t mean that a rejected manuscript is unpublishable; it simply means that it doesn’t meet that publisher’s needs at the current time. It’s a business decision, not a personal one. But for us, the writers, it is indeed personal, because our books are part of us. (I know I said that before, but it bears repeating.)
Myth #4: It only happens to unpublished authors. Oh, how I wish this were true! After I sold my first book to the second editor who read it, I thought I was on Easy Street. Reality was that the market changed and the line that featured my first book was discontinued. It took me several years and many, many rejections to sell another book. I’d love to tell you that that will never happen to you, but there are no guarantees. The market continues to change. Some publishers are being acquired by others. Lines are discontinued or are contracting, while others are expanding. The only guarantee is that change will continue.
Myth #5: The only rejections come from editors and agents. When we talk about rejection, we often focus on the traditional definition, namely rejection of a manuscript by an editor or agent, but there are other types of rejection that hurt almost as much as the traditional one. I consider bad reviews, scathing emails from readers and unsuccessful book signings to be a form of rejection, and yes, they’ve all happened to me.
Myth #6: It gets easier. The good news about this myth is that it’s true if you add a qualifying clause. Dealing with rejection does become easier if you develop some coping techniques. And that leads me to the next part of this discussion.
How do you cope with rejection besides eating a lot of chocolate? A few techniques that have worked for me are:
Venting: Do not – I repeat, DO NOT – vent by calling the agent or editor to say that there’s been a huge mistake, that anyone with half a brain would recognize your genius. Instead, call a friend or, even better, pull out a piece of paper and release your anger by writing all the things you want to say to the editor. Then shred it.
Exercise: This is one of my favorite coping techniques, simply because it works so quickly. I’m not going to quote the research about the therapeutic effect of the endorphins that exercise releases; all I’m going to say is DO IT. Whether you take a brisk walk, go to the gym or simply clean house, exercise helps to calm you. It also helps burn some of the calories from all the consolation chocolate you’ve been eating. Two benefits from one technique. You can’t ask for better than that.
Reading: Pull out your favorite authors and indulge yourself. Yes, this is escapism, but there’s nothing wrong with that. You can always justify it by saying that you’re doing market research.
Plan B: Even before you send out the first query, you should have a prioritized list of the editors or agents you want to query. If one rejects you, send the query to the next one on the list. And, if you’ve gone the multiple submission route and have sent the manuscript to everyone on your list, do some research to see whether there are agents or editors you haven’t considered. Only when you’ve exhausted every possible home for your manuscript should you abandon it.
Writing: I’ve found this to be an excellent remedy for the inevitable blues that accompany rejection. Get back to work on the next project. (You were already working on it while you waited for news about the first one, weren’t you?) One of the benefits of being engrossed in a second book while you wait for the decision on the first is that it’s an expanded version of Plan B. If the first manuscript doesn’t sell, you haven’t put all your eggs in one proverbial basket.
Prayer: I’ve saved the best for last in this list, but as Christian writers we know it should be our first step. Take the time to thank God for the many gifts He’s given you, including the ability to write. And then listen, really listen, to His response.
The bottom line is that rejection hurts. It always will, but you can and will survive it.