Thursday, May 27, 2010

How To Take Rejection Like a Pro

In case you were wondering, yes, I am a pro at getting rejections. But I'm not talking about the "Ew, I'd never date a loser like you!" kind of rejection. I'm talking about the kind of rejection that comes when you are querying agents/editors with your work.

I entered the official world of rejections way back in 2007. (I know, that was just yesterday in publishing years, but bear with me...) I sent a short, sweet poem about the autumn harvest to a children's magazine. They sent a form rejection (my writing friends and I simply call it an R) that had a checklist for reasons why they were passing. The checklist was completely blank, but there was a short, handwritten note at the bottom that basically said the the poem was nice but they had already purchased something similar.

I do remember getting that rejection. It wasn't pretty. I frowned and furrowed my eyebrows for at least a good minute.

But the real rejections came about a year later when I started querying agents. My novel was finished and (nearly) polished, but I went through rejection after rejection as each agent sent that dreaded R.

Rejection is something every writer has to deal with at one point or another. I'm not going to list here all those bestselling authors who got rejected a million times before they became super famous. You've all heard the stories. But, if you're like me, hearing someone else's eventual success really doesn't help when you are wallowing in your own rejection self-pity. In fact, sometimes it makes you want to take their uber-successful book (which, of course, is on your bookcase because you stood in line for three hours with 40 million other fans so you could purchase it at midnight on the day it came out) and chuck it at the wall.

So, how do you deal with rejection? I'm sure it's different for everyone, since we all have different personalities and ways of coping. But here are a few thoughts I have on the subject:

1) It's nothing personal.

The fact is, the publishing industry takes something that is very personal--a writer's words (and, by extension, thoughts and feelings as well)--and brings it into the very non-personal business world. For a publishing house, the bottom line does matter. For an agent, selling a client's book is important. That doesn't mean they aren't passionate about their work, but it does mean that they can't sign every client or buy every manuscript they see. It's nothing personal, it's just business.

I know it's harsh to hear those words when you've worked on something so hard for so long, but it helps to remember that they aren't rejecting YOU. It truly is nothing personal. Remember that.

2) It'll only hurt for a little bit.

Rejections hurt. Some more than others. But someone wiser than most once said that time heals all wounds. Give yourself some time to grieve. Go ahead and cry or spit or hang a photo of the agent/editor on your oft-used dart board. And, soon enough, you'll get over it.

(NOTE: I would like to make it perfectly clear that it is not okay to throw darts at real agents/editors. And I wouldn't make it a well-known fact that you're throwing darts at photos of these people, either. The publishing biz is a small world, after all. The other agents/editors might not want to work with you if they knew their industry peers' mugs are hanging up all over your house. That borders on creepy, IMO.)

3) It's a subjective world out there.

I once took an art appreciation/art history class in college. I found that I gravitated toward the landscape painters such as Thomas Cole, because it amazed me that they could paint something as magnificent as an entire mountain, for example, but in such minute detail that it looked nearly like a photograph. And I was surprised when others in the class said how much they hated those same paintings, because they did look like photographs and, therefore, weren't imaginative enough. They liked the Cubism paintings by Picasso instead.

I've found that manuscripts are exactly the same. Some people love one style and hate another. So don't despair when those rejections come in. That agent/editor may be looking for a Picasso when you might be a Thomas Cole. It doesn't mean you can't paint--um, I mean write--it just means you haven't found the right audience yet.

4) Learn to keep it all in perspective.

Why are you writing, anyway? I suspect most of you write because you have to. You can't imagine not writing. It's a part of who you are. You couldn't stop writing even if you wanted to, which you don't.

Does a rejection from an agent/editor change that? Certainly not, I say. You will always keep writing because you are a writer, no matter what anyone else thinks.

Besides, you need some great rejection stories for later, when you are a super-successful author. So be grateful. No one likes to hear those "Oh, I've never been rejected!" stories. They are soooo boring. You are so lucky you aren't one of those people. Trust me on this.


  1. oh Elissa this was EXACTLY what i needed to hear today. THANK YOU! i especially liked #3. i've heard it so many times - "it's all so subjective" but i never put much stock in those words. to someone who's also a musician, i wondered how anyone could't love mozart or rachmaninoff. great art is great art. period. right? sure, but we still have our preferences. with writing, i've thought the same thing. but you've put in great perspective for me.

    funny too- i was just saying, i don't need any more rejections to make me stronger, to make me want it more. i just need it to happen. but how interesting would that be?

  2. I'm glad I could help, Amie! It always make me happy to know my words have helped someone.

    But, on the other hand, it's so weird to think that those words (which, to me, are very ho hum same old nothing new) are helping others. Weird, weird. ;)

  3. Great post. It's good to keep things in perspective. And sometimes it's just having the right thing at the right time.

  4. That is so true, Christina. Right place, right time = happy news.

  5. Found this post after a particularly sad morning from another rejection (R). Thanks for the encouragement.

  6. I'm a professional dancer used to the R's. This last one hurt, real bad. I needed this. Thank you.