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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, http://www.agentquery.com/ is a good place to start, along with http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/. 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!