Rejection: How You Feel Vs. How You Should Think

March 7, 2012

***As part of our birthday week celebration, we’re picking our favorite posts of the last year. This is Nicole’s favorite. It originally appeared on the blog on December 13, 2011.

I’ve been seriously submitting to publishers (a few agents too) for almost two years now, and in that time I’ve received a lot of rejections ranging from a revise & submit (which still ultimately ended in rejection) to your average form letter rejection and a lot of stuff in between. I’ve made about 15 submissions in that time, and been rejected 14 of those 15 times.

Rejection sucks. It doesn’t get easier. In fact, if you have some modicum of success like a contract or even positive comments with a rejection, getting a form letter seems even harder to swallow after. It feels like backward progress, like your writing has become worse rather than better.

The thing is, getting published isn’t a straight line from A to B. There are a lot of ways to get there and a lot of detours along the way.

When we first get a rejection, it’s hard to remember that. It’s hard to let the rational part of our brain react.  Instead, it’s usually the irrational side that starts yelling, crying, whispering, poking at you. But, if you really want to be a published author, if you really want this to be your career, you have to think of it in that business manner. It can’t be personal, even when the irrational/emotional side of your brain wants it to be.

So, today, perhaps to cope with a little rejection of my own, I’ve made two lists. The first list is those irrational responses we have. Some might even be valid or worthy of a second or two of thought. You might need to vent those feelings to a loved one or to a CP, but mostly, the second list is the one we need to focus on. The one that we should remember in the public forum of the internet. The mature, business-minded, rational reaction to rejection.

Irrational Thoughts upon Rejection

1. I suck. I must be the worst writer in the world. Why did I ever submit that piece of filthy garbage?

2. The editors are fools! How could they ignore my brilliance when they’ve published x, y, or z crap?

3. What’s the point in all this? I’m just going to keep getting rejected. I give up.

4. Woe is me. Everyone else has it so much better. Look at This Person. Her life is perfect. It’s not fair!

5. I will never write again.

6. What am I doing that is so wrong? This is the best thing I’ve ever written and it’s still not good enough! Why isn’t this happening for me?

The Rational Side of Those Irrational Thoughts

1. It is normal and understandable for rejection to feel personal. But it’s not (unless you’ve made some kind of horrible shrew of yourself in the past so that no one wants to work with you). For most publishers and agents there are a million things that go into the decision of acceptance or rejection. Perhaps your writing isn’t sharp enough. Maybe your concept is too close to another book they’ve already published/contracted. Maybe, regardless of how well the story is written, there’s something about it that will be hard to sell. Maybe they’re already full to the brim of a certain sub-genre. Maybe your story really isn’t ready yet. There are a million and one reasons for rejection. They don’t always mean you suck, and they never mean you can’t get better. Read over your manuscript. Chances are if you subbed it months ago, you’ll see some weaknesses after having a break from it. I once subbed something and didn’t get a response until almost a year later. When I read it a year later, I cringed at how bad it was. I had come so far as a writer I couldn’t blame them for rejection. It had been the best I could do, but it was no longer the best I had to offer. The thing about writing is we continue to grow and get better. Chances are if it’s been a while, you’ll have the clarity to see that you can improve that story now, even if you couldn’t have then.

2. Nothing irritates me more (and I’m sure editors and agents feel the same way) than someone complaining that the editor, agent, whoever is just too stupid to see the brilliance in a manuscript. These people did not get their jobs because they’re stupid or don’t understand the genre or the publisher. While it’s good to have confidence in your work, if you’re blaming everyone else for your rejection, chances are you’re wrong. I’m always amazed when I see an agent or editor post a nasty response they’ve gotten to a rejection. Remember, just because you wrote a book doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed or owed publication. Just because it’s the best you can do doesn’t mean it’s better than the other submissions publishers/agents are getting. Accept that it wasn’t a good fit, and leave the blame game behind. You’ll never get better if you can’t admit there’s room for improvement.

3. If you want to give up, go ahead, but you won’t succeed. The only way to become published is to keep going. If you feel like you want to quit, explore those feelings. What’s more important to you: avoiding rejection or continuing to try? Sometimes, the answer is avoiding rejection, and that’s okay. No one’s forcing you to become a writer. If it’s not what you really want, do everyone a favor and give up. The great thing about writing is that you can always come back to it later when you’re ready to try again. Whatever you decide moments after the rejection doesn’t have to be what you stick to the next day. If you need to take a break from submitting, do it. But if this is really what you want, you have to keep plugging away at it. Giving up won’t lead you to publication.

4. Comparisons are never your friend. They will never make you feel better. And, especially in social media, it is easy for a person to present their life in only positive terms. If you’ve ever been to pinterest, you’ve probably seen the silly pictures they have with funny sayings, and one of my favorites is, “Someday I hope my life is as awesome as you pretend yours is on Facebook.” The bottom line is you really never truly know what another person’s life, career, emotional state is like ESPECIALLY on the internet. You can only worry about you (if you’re a parent or a teacher, you’ve probably said this to a child before). If you’re obsessing about another’s success, you have less time to focus on making your own. It’s not healthy, and it’s not fair to you or the person you’re jealous of.

5. Doubtful. If you’ve gotten this far, it’s because you enjoy writing. Chances are, even if you feel so gutted you vow never to put word to paper again, you will.

6. I think this is the hardest feeling to get over, because the bottom line is it’s hard to find the feedback to answer this question. Sure, a CP helps. (The first book I worked on with my CP is also the first book to land me a contract). Contest feedback can be worthwhile and if you’re really lucky your rejection might give you some inclination as to where you went wrong, but mostly it’s a guessing game. What can you do? You can keep writing. The only way to get better is to keep doing it. You can keep reading. Writers who don’t read are doing themselves a huge disservice. You can take workshops. Look for ones that have been recommended to you by people you trust. Even if something is the best thing you’ve ever written, that doesn’t mean it’s the best thing you’ll ever write. The bottom line is you have to keep trying to get better.

Whining and wallowing for a few days (as long as it’s not in a public forum) can be helpful and even necessary. It’s okay to mourn that opportunity you lost. In fact, not caring about it at all isn’t really that great either. It shows a lack of passion, of wanting it. Feel bad. It’s okay. But at some point you have to let the rational voice take over. You have to pull on your Big Girl/Guy pants and move on. You’ll have to submit again, possibly face rejection again, go through the same process all over again.

I’m not saying it’s easy, but if you want to succeed, it is necessary.


One Response to “Rejection: How You Feel Vs. How You Should Think”

  1. “Even if something is the best thing you’ve ever written, that doesn’t mean it’s the best thing you’ll ever write.”

    Such an important thing to remember! Thanks, Nicole. 🙂


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