On Writing: Facing Rejection

“You can’t give up. When a lot of people don’t get published, it’s not because they couldn’t have, it’s because they gave up. They didn’t keep at it, they didn’t finish that story they were thinking about finishing, they got one rejection note…and they thought it was the end of the world. You have to keep going.”

–  Rick Riordan

 

Roughly a month ago at about this time, I was sitting pretty in agent-ville. After sending out around ten queries, three literary agents asked to see my full manuscript, all within two weeks of each other.

I had a rush like you wouldn’t believe. Sure, it was the end of my first year of college and I was busy with finals. But agents were interested in MY book! I didn’t just get lucky with one query, there were multiple agents—including the agent who represented a little series called The Hunger Games—who said they would “love to read my novel.”

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And here we are a month later. And, as I’m sure you could’ve guessed, my walk on sunshine was recently put to an abrupt end with three big fat rejections.

Technically, it was two written rejections and one silent one, but the two written ones were incredibly nice. Agent 1 thought I had a fantastic premise and sympathetic protagonist, but the voice didn’t feel quite right. Agent 2 thought I showed wonderful flashes of humor and did a great job of “demonstrating the awkwardness of adolescence,” but thought the story relied too much on telling rather than showing.

In short: I’m back to square one.

Naturally, this means I’ve sunk into a pit of sadness which has forced me to cast off my family name, run away to a foreign land, and become a homeless street beggar like Bruce Wayne did in Batman Begins.

Just kidding.

Am I disappointed? Well, of course. But the thing is, with everyone constantly blabbing about how “subjective this industry is,” it’s pretty tough to expect anything besides a rejection. So, when it happens, I’m not too fazed by it.

Still, rejection in general is rough. Every writer faces it; hell, I’m willing to say every artist faces it, whether you’re a photographer or painter or author.

So, how’re we going to tackle this?

I’ve read about many authors who reached the point of lighting rejection letters on fire. While I’m always up for a nice pyro-themed escapade, such a thing would require me to dig up the email and print it out, which is far too tedious.

What else have we got?

Well, Stephen King secured his letters to his wall with the help of a trusty nail gun. Good approach, but knowing my luck I would hit an electrical wire or something and electrocute myself, then the form rejections would look pretty pleasant compared to my resultant death by cardiac arrest, now wouldn’t they.

No, the only symbolic thing I do when I get rejections is throw ‘em in a binder I keep on my dresser.

Why ever would I do that?

Glad you asked!

Several reasons. First, I believe deep down that someday, somehow, I’ll make it in this crazy industry known in publishing. I’m not sure how it’ll happen, or when, but I believe it will. I don’t want to come off as overconfident, but you have to have a little faith with this kind of thing, you know? And when (if) the day comes that I do make it, I want to have that binder by my side, so I never forget what it took to get there.

Second, much more importantly, I keep all my rejections because once all the gripes and curses are said and done, every “no” from an agent is a learning opportunity.

Most people see agents as terrible individuals whose sole purpose for existence is to choke the life out of young writers’ dearest dreams.

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But! Agents are human beings too. And even if you’re mad at them, they have a reason for turning down your work, and that’s worth considering.

“But you’ve got no idea what you’re talking about, you driveling hooligan,” many of you growl darkly. “How can I learn anything if I’ve only ever received Dear Author forms?”

I sympathize with that, because I was there, too. Before this novel that received three full requests, I queried another project which, for a while, received nothing but generic rejections. And I was frustrated that agents couldn’t just give me a reason why they were passing.

I can’t fix that problem. All I can do is repeat the wise guideline included in every edition of Guide to Literary Agents: if you send out 10-15 query letters and don’t receive a single positive response, SOMETHING. IS. WRONG.

And of course, this advice is even more infuriating. “Oh, so if I’ve already sent out fifteen queries and have only gotten generic passes, then you’re telling me I should quit trying?”

Yes and no.

I believe that advice in GLA is sound, and having reached that dreaded 15-letter threshold before, I know how tough it is to accept. But if you reach that point, the way I see it, there are two options:

  1. Keep sending out queries, hoping that you’ll be that one person who beats the odds.
  2. Set your project aside for a month or two, then come back to it with fresh eyes, and don’t query again until you’ve revised.

Oh, I know how tough that second option is, guys. I know because it’s what I’m about to do with my own work.

I took option one with my last project, and it got nowhere. I’ve learned from my mistakes. And I know it sucks, but in the end, that’s what dealing with rejection is all about: improving yourself, and moving forward.

I’m not happy about having to set aside my novel, wait, go back and revise it, then start the whole query process over again. But I will, and that’s what I’d urge anyone in my position to do as well.

Here’s to moving forward.

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