This week (early Monday morning, I’d barely had my coffee), I was harshly reminded of one of the ever-present elements of a writer’s life – rejection. I might joke and make light of it now but, at the time, it hurt. It daaamn hurt.
I’ve been saying, ever since I first tried my hand at getting published, that rejection is part of life, that it’s part of career-choice in any industry where subjectivity is key, be it writing books, designing buildings or sculpting sculptures. And, as we put that thick envelope in the post-box or click ‘send’ on that email, we know that there’s a chance that response will be negative. However, it still stings when that ‘we liked your book, we just didn’t love your book’ reply pokes its head in the door.
One person who knows a lot about dealing with this painful part of the creative process is screenwriter and novelist Chuck Wendig. And it isn’t because he’s a bad writer. It’s because he, like the rest of us who have put ourselves out there in the big bad publishing world, has to deal with as much rejection as he gets to enjoy success. Happily for us, Chuck is able to look at the whole thing objectively and, over on his website, he gives us the 25 most important things to know about rejection. And if we remember these gems, it will make that heart-breaking bit of news about our beloved manuscript a little bit easier to take.
Nathan Bransford talks about the literary agent’s take on giving that bit of bad news, pointing out that, even though he receives up to twenty thousand submissions every year and that his job is to ‘pull gems out of the virtual pile’, he still hates sending out rejections.
Starting with a brilliant example of what we poor writers, at times, imagine the publishing industry thinks of us (they really don’t, of course), fictionfactor.com talks about what many of us don’t realise. That there are loads of reasons we’re rejected – timing, budget, state of the market etc. – that have nothing to do with the quality of our writing. The message that it conveys (I hope) is that, at the end of the day, the publishing business is just that – a business.
It seems that anytime I mention rejection, I get the ‘You know J.K. Rowling was rejected one-hundred-million times (the number varies widely) before she got published?’ response. And it turns out Ms Rowling wasn’t the only went-on-to-be-a-star who had to endure the heartache. Some fairly cutting rejections to Sylvia Plath, Jack Kerouac and Tim Burton might help stem the tide of our self-pity – or just give us a cheap laugh.
For those of us thinking that the way around rejection is to self-publish, a nasty surprise might be waiting down the line. Rejection for a self-published writer might be more gradual than for those seeking traditional publication but it can be just as painful and, in fact, more damaging. Think trickling and dwindling sales, one-star reviews and (yikes) requests for refund. The Alliance of Independent Authors has seen first-hand how bad post-publication rejection can be and gives us invaluable advice on how to avoid it.
I didn’t realise it would be, but writing about all this has actually been quite cathartic – realising that so many of my fellow scribes, especially those who have since gone on to be successful, rich and famous, have had deal with rejection too. It did also helps that, this week, I attended the launch of two brilliant books by Margaret Scott and Alex Barclay, which gave me hope that there might be a We-want-to-publish-your-book phone-call in my future. In all our futures.
‘There’s nothing like rejection to make you do an inventory of yourself.’ – James Lee Burke
A countless parade of bears.
Chuck Wendig’s 25 most important things to know about rejection.
“If you’re a writer, a writer who writes, a writer who puts her work out there, you’re going to face rejection. It’s like saying, ‘Eventually you’re going to have to fistfight a bear’.”
Silence is Golden. Really?
Agent Nathan Bransford on the future of the rejection.
“I loathe sending rejection letters. Loathe loathe loathe. Who am I to be telling someone they’re not worthy of publication?”
It’s Not Personal.
FictionFactor.com on some of the other reasons we get rejected.
‘The brilliant, masterpiece-seeking staff at Bucking-Huge Publishing have decided to ruin your day and post you this pointless piece of paper. It is an official rejection of you as a person and as a writer.‘
You’re Not the Only One.
A list of rejections sent to some of our most successful writers.
“This is an ill-conceived, poorly written novel, and we would be doing neither ourselves nor the late Miss Plath any good service by offering it to the American public.”
Do it yourself. Or maybe not.
Karen Lotter from The Alliance of Independent Authors on why self-publishing won’t necessarily side-step rejection.
“The great thing about being an independent author is that you sidestep rejections by agents and publishers. But every silver lining has a cloud.”