Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Writers' Wednesday: How To Deal With Rejection

Welcome to Writers' Wednesday! Today I'll be entering the name of everyone who comments into a drawing to win a $5 Amazon gift certificate. I look forward to hearing from you!


If you’re a writer, and if you dream of someday publishing a short story/novel/article/best-seller that will lead you straight to The Oprah Winfrey show, you’ve probably received a rejection letter from an agent/publisher/editor.

And if you haven’t, you will.

Sorry. Didn’t mean to dash your hopes. But the chances of having your work contracted by the first person you query are small. Not impossible, of course. Just small. And even if you’ve had the joy of hearing that first “Yes, we love it, here’s a contract,” your next work may not be as well received.

So how do you deal with rejection in the writing world, and how do you use it to make your next effort better?

1. Don’t take the rejection personally. Except in very, very few cases, you will not know the person to whom you are addressing your query letter. Nor does that person know you. The agent/editor/first reader is not rejecting you as a person. He or she is not telling you that you will never amount to anything in the publishing world. Or in any world, for that matter. He or she is simply saying that, for whatever reason, the work is not right. Not for them. Not now. That’s all.

2. Send out another query. Soon. This is crucial. Continue to query until you’ve exhausted your list. If you’re querying agents, is a good place to start, along with The annually published Writer’s Market is a nearly exhaustive list of agents, publishers, and other markets for your writing. Make a list of your top targets and work your way through to the end. Then make another list.

3. Read your rejection letters carefully to see if there’s anything you can take away and use to improve your manuscript. Most people will receive a form letter. If you manage to glean a personal comment on your work, that’s good! “I would have liked a better reason for Sally to return to her hometown” can help you take another look at your heroine‘s motivation. “I have two teenagers, and they don’t talk like that” can help you refine your dialogue. “Paul and Perry meeting in chapter twenty was too predictable” can help you amp up your conflict. Even “Sorry, not right for us” can encourage you take a more careful look at submission guidelines.

4. Keep writing. If you must, put the work that you queried away for a while. Sometimes it’s too tough to go back through and think about revising. That’s OK. Have another project in the wings. Maybe it’s your next novel. Maybe it’s an article for that gardening e-zine you’ve had your eye on. Maybe it’s a fun short story in a different voice or genre than you usually target. Maybe it’s a letter in longhand to your niece who just went away to college. Remind yourself why you write in the first place: because it’s a creative itch that just won’t go away. And it’s fun. It is, right?

5. Find a creative place, or way, to store your rejection letters. Stephen King used to hang his from a nail (later replaced by a spike, to hold the weight) hammered into his bedroom wall. Another author I know uses hers to make papier-mâché bowls. After they’ve dried into place, she paints them bright colors, and they make great additions to her living room décor! I’ve kept every rejection letter I’ve received. Right now, they’re just stored in a big (BIG) folder, but I plan to turn them into a giant display the day I become a NY Times best-seller and do a book-signing that draws a crowd of hundreds.

6. Comfort yourself. Really. Allow yourself the candy bar you usually don’t. Bake something delicious. Sleep in. Leave the laundry for another day. Go shopping. Play tag with your kids. You are a valuable being, and in writing and submitting your work, you’re living the dream that many people talk about but never achieve.

7. Find inspiration from these famous authors, all of whom were rejected multiple times before publishing:

Richard Bach, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull" (26 rejections)
John Grisham, “A Time to Kill” (28 rejections)
Mark Victor Hansen and Jack Canfield, Chicken Soup for the Soul Series (31 rejections)
Robert M. Pirsig, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" (121 rejections)

Rejection is tough. But it does not mean the end of the world for you as a writer. Just the opposite: it means that you have the guts to send your work, your baby, out into the world for strangers to review. Think of how many people never even take the chance! Basic Author


Nancy Lindquist-Liedel said...

Good points, Allie.

Judy said...

I like the idea of keeping them for a display for when you are famous ;-) What about the email rejections? Do you print them as well?(just curious)

Diane Craver said...

Great post, Allie!

I'm glad you mentioned some of the famous authors who received numerous rejection letters. I want to add Margaret Mitchell to your list. She got 38 rejection letters from different publishers before finally finding one to publish her novel, Gone With The Wind.

Sometimes you have to remember that the agents might be wrong about your book, and everything is subjective. I had 3 agents tell me they didn't like my characters in this one particular book. I didn't change them and now it's published. My editors, reviewers, and readers have commented on how much they love the characters.

I guess I picked the wrong agents to submit to - lol

Jennah said...

Great post Allie! I keep mine in a folder as well. I sometimes reread them because I've had some extremely encouraging comments from Harlequin and poetry publishers. I usually take a day after a rejection to regroup. Yes, the chocolate bar definitely helps.

Amy said...

Rejections mean you're working hard. You're not just talking the talk, to use the old cliche, you're walking the walk. Lots of people talk about writing and never do it. At least, that's what I try and tell myself when I get one of those sad letters. :-)

bunnygirl said...

Writing is art, but getting it published is about the market.

There are so many reasons for rejection. The agent doesn't market your genre, they do market your genre but already have enough of it, you caught the agent on a bad day, they don't like your characters, they don't like stories with volcanoes, or, or , or...

The possibilities are endless.

Good writing doesn't always get published. Not right away, and sometimes not ever.

Having said that, one should always remain open to the possibility that one's writing just isn't very good, or doesn't match the currently marketable style for the genre. That's where a good crit group or beta reader comes in.

But at a certain point (hopefully earlier rather than later) one has to ask oneself why they're doing all this writing in the first place. If it's just to get published, rejection will sting a lot more than if it's for the pleasure of getting lost in a world of one's own creation every evening.

Write because you love it. The love will show. And if that contract never comes, at least you've been having a great time!

Pisarz said...

You asked so nicely on AW for visitors that I couldn't help but stop by! And a post about the neverending rejection (or so it seems) in this business is always in fashion.

Good luck in your writing endeavors!

Marianne Arkins said...

The best part about rejections is the confirmation that you're working, you're trying and willing to put it out there. It's always said "writers write", but I think they should also say "writers submit".

I keep mine, too. They're a badge of honor.

And, it seems as though I recall Little Women having a couple dozen rejections as well.

Christine said...

The best cure for the rejections blues... a shiny new book contract :) Like the one I got last week, after a particularly downing rejection from an agent.

Whenever I get a rejection, I try to send out three more queries. Makes me feel so much better.

I also keep mine. I actually show them to kids when I do school visits.

Maprilynne said...

I totally had to laugh about your comment about how rare it is to be signed by the first person you query because that's exactly what happened to me.

But that's only the tip of the iceberg. I send my agent my full manuscript and did not hear back from her for over ten months. In the mean time I racked up over 100 rejections. No one, NO ONE is rejection free.

If they say they are they're probably lying.;)

Anonymous said...

Excellent! A very positive approach to a topic we all face, and often dread.

I'm wallpapering my writing room with rejection slips. That may sound like a drag, but it actually helps. Among the form letters are ones that actually offer some hope. I highlight those ones! And I have a framed photocopy of my first cheque. It reminds me of those moments that make it all worth while.

Pam said...

Hi Allie,

This post offers great help for those of us often in need of an emotional bullet-proof vest.

I'd like to add that reading any feedback u get a second time, after the surge of distress has died down, is helpful. A cooling off period as it were, cuz the second time, u can process better and like you said, glean what really might be helpful to improve the work.

Then too, as we put whatever input offered into perspective, we see it's one person's opinion. How much we value that opinion can also be better discerned when we're not in a huff.

And writing is fun and chances are excellent we'd still do it if we never sold a word. So, perhaps it really is about the journey and not the destination.

Speaking of destinations, I must check my messages. Surely Oprah called to arrange my trip to Chicago. ;-)


N.J.Walters said...

Great post, Allie. You make a lot of excellent points!

Beth said...

I think these points are valid and can be applied to other things in life as well as writing

Anonymous said...

An excellent post, Allie! I throw away rejections if they're form rejections, but I keep the ones which give me feedback.

I'll be heading back into the query fray, but not for a little while -- I'm rewriting one novel, revising another, and getting going on a first draft for yet another! Ha! Or maybe all this multi-tasking is simply a means of query-avoidance. ;-D

Take care, and I wish you great luck with your writing!

Cat Marsters & Kate Johnson said...

Oh, I can totally relate to this. I could probably wallpaper my house with my rejections if only my family wouldn't kill me. I'd do the walls in here but then where would I hang my pretty Spike posters?

I never counted my rejections. More than Margaret Mitchell, less than the Zen and the Motorbike guy. I hope.

Still, having sold a dozen or so books since, I'm not planning the funerals of those unwise editors just yet...

Ali said...

Thanks for the tips, Allie... I've printed them out and will be better prepared for my first rejection letter :)

Jess said...

Good points!!

robynl said...

In your business it is 'ty, try again'. Pull up your boot straps and keep on walking. It takes courage to put your work out there and this is the same for anyone who creates whatever and puts it out for public viewing/reading.
Keep on they say.

gabriella hewitt said...

Good advice. Rejection sucks but it is so much a part of this business. Even after you sell that first time, rejection still happens. You have to pick yourself up, learn what you can and move on or you'll never make it.

Publishing is a tough business, no doubt about it. If you love writing, though, work at the craft daily and don't give up, you should make it.