Thursday, March 25, 2010

Don't Take It Personally

by Joyce

One of the pitfalls of being a writer is having to deal with rejection. I can't think of any other profession where it's possible to get slammed down on a regular basis. Even actors don't get those dreaded letters in their email or mailbox.

And talk about mood swings! Euphoria when the email arrives--you're sure she's asking for more material, or she wants to know a good time to call because she loves your book. You click and start reading. Bam! Another rejection. You go looking for chocolate or alcohol--or both.

Even bestselling authors have had their share of rejection. J.K. Rowling and Stephen King were rejected numerous times before their first books found a home. Gone With the Wind was rejected 38 times. Jonathan Livingston Seagull was rejected a whopping 140 times. The list goes on and on. (Google "writer rejections" sometime. You wouldn't believe the number of sites that come up.)

Believe me, I've had my share of rejections. Over the years they've ranged from the typical form rejection to the send-me-your-next-book kind. Some have been helpful and gave me specific advice on what needed to be fixed. Some were just a "No" scribbled across the top of my query letter. Others were downright blunt ("I thought it would be better."). 

There's no doubt that rejections hurt. Even the "good" ones. But no matter what kind of rejection you receive, learn not to take it personally. I know our manuscripts sometimes feel like our babies. We've poured our hearts and souls into them for months, and in many cases, years. Try and remember that what we've written is only a product. Some will like it--others not so much. Some might even hate it. Remember that the agent or editor is rejecting the product, not you. It's not always easy, but it's part of the process.

I'm not sure where the saying came from, but remember--what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Polish up that next query and send it off.

Does anyone have any rejections stories to tell? What is the worst rejection you've received? The best?


Wilfred Bereswill said...

Joyce, you hit the nail on the head. As I wrote, in my blog, rejection is my biggest motivator. However, i think too many people take it too personally. What defines us is what we do about it.

The worst one for me was the first. I was young(er) and stupid then. I look back and I read that piece of crap the way it was written and wonder, "What the hell was I thinking? This is absolute crap." That first rejection was very kind.

Of course that piece of crap became my published novel. But that first rejection stung badly. (BTW, in your writing don't use adverbs like badly unless you like rejections.)

My best rejection was a one hour phone call in the San Antonio Airport. I was waiting for a plane and got an email to call a small publisher. The editor took the time to tell me what she thought. It was because she thought the story was really good and wanted it to be better. I took plenty of notes, spent the next month rewriting and one month later had a contract.

Dana King said...

Having done both, I can attest that writers, for all the frustrations, still have it better than musicians.

Musicians have to pay their own expenses to the audition, where they must produce their product in real time, the first time. (PRacticing beforehand is not the same as refining a draft until it's ready to send, knowing it won't change.) The failed musician is then rejected to his face. Big fun.

ramona said...

I once received a rejection for someone else's work. (My SASE, their letter.) The letter was short but not sweet, so I decided I'd better not pursue wherever mine went.

Wilfred Bereswill said...


I forgot, I had the same thing happen. I received a rejection from a small press in Dallas TX. It was my name, but the title of the work and the description they gave of the plot was somebody else.

It was a rather scathing reject at that. I tried contacting the small press several times and never received a response.

Joyce said...

Ramona, I'd be afraid that an acceptance letter, or request for more material went to the other author. Before email queries, I actually had a couple of requests for partials and fulls through the mail. Now I have to fear emails going astray, ending up in spam filters, getting lost in cyberspace...

ramona said...

Will, you are braver than I was when this happened, long ago before I began to sport my hardened shell.

Joyce, I rationalized that I didn't want to work with this unpleasant person, anyway.

I have learned my lesson about email going astray. The first time someone writes to me, it usually goes straight to Spam. If I thin out email, those addresses are considered Spam the next time they appear. So I check my Spam file every day.

The stuff I don't want to see pops right into my Inbox, though.

Joyce said...

My mail (goes through yahoo, which I absolutely HATE) does the same thing, Ramona. My kid keeps telling me to switch to gmail, but I hate the thoughts of changing everything.

Jennie Bentley said...

Ah yes, rejections. I'm with Dana. Having tried to be an actress, I can attest that it's SO much more pleasant being rejected by mail. Being told no to your face isn't much fun at all.

I don't really remember my rejections, except for the first one. It was a long time ago, for this romance novel I thought about writing. (Note: I hadn't written it. I had written the first chapter, which had won a contest, and I thought 'Let me write a synopsis for this book and see if anyone wants to publish it. THEN I'll write it.')

Being young and totally clueless, I sent the synopsis to an editor at Harlequin, the biggest publisher of romance novels out there. A few weeks later I got rejected, in a two page personalized letter that laid out everything that was wrong with my synopsis and suggested things I could do to fix it. I put it in my drawer and never looked at it again. A perfect case of 'had I but known'...

Gina said...

One of my favorites came from an agent I linked up with at PennWriters Conference. She expressed interest in seeing 50 pages of my manuscript Four Weekends - this is my dark exploration of the seductive nature of cruelty, in which my protagonist and two friends (?) go on a crime rampage. It is full of sex and violence - rape, murder, broken bones, etc. and I thought it was timely because Abu Grabe had just come to light. The rejection read, "I told you I don't represent cozies."

Jemi Fraser said...

Strangely my first rejection made me feel more like a "real" writer. I was finally in the club :)

nancy said...

I've never been rejected. Well, once. No, twice. Come to think of it, I've been rejected a few times. Hell, a lot of times!

Thing is? You have to forget about it and move on. It's not you who's being rejected, it's some words you arranged on a page. words can be re-arranged, stories changed, settings moved, tone lightened or darkened, characters discarded and re-invented. You have to separate yourself from the rejection or find a way to make it work for you. Writing books is ALL ABOUT rejection, and if your heart is too tender or your skin too thin, you should become something else. Or learn to write for your own pleasure and forget about publishing. Because it's an extremely negative business, and the negative aspects doesn't stop when you get published. Never. (Have you seen my Amazon reviews?) You just have to reject rejection.

Easy, right?

Patg said...

My worst rejection asked me to change my work to read more like another author it that agent's stable.
I use the term 'stable' because I now think of that very well know agent as a horse's a--.
I guess I'm still not over her rejection letter that actually started off telling me that my query was well written.