Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Picking Yourself Back Up After That Rejection Email

Every writer has at least one of these days--you know, the horrible days where you check your inbox, see that agent or publisher's name on an email and excitedly open up a message that begins with some version of "Although your writing shows great promise..." or "While I enjoyed your writing immensely..." or "Unfortunately, I just didn't connect with your protagonist/hero/heroine/conflict/plotline/narrative style/sneakers/chia pet/favorite television show..."

You get the picture.

Rejection is something writers have to deal with every single day.  This isn't a business for the thin-skinned. Sure, those rejections hurt--especially the one that starts off with "Dear Author" or has your name misspelled on the form. Believe me, I've seen every variation of the name "Celina" that's possible: Celena, Selina, Selena, Saliva, Sleestack--you name it, I have a rejection with that name set on the wrong line, in a different font and bigger than the rest of the form typed out by some unpaid intern ready to make it big in the publishing industry. Yep, I get it. It sucks. It sucks badly.

But, are rejections necessarily a bad thing?  See, I don't think so.

Every rejection teaches me something about my writing.  All form rejections? My writing didn't stand out enough in the agent/publisher's mind to warrant a personal rejection. It just plain wasn't ready, or the entity I submitted it to wasn't the best source to turn to.  Lots of requests, no offers? Those rejections hurt the worst. It means my query letter was good and did its job and my first two or three chapters were really strong--strong enough to get someone excited about the work. But, in the end, the story didn't sustain itself for a full read for either the agent or the publisher--and that means it probably wouldn't keep a reader's interest either. Rejections off requested manuscripts indicates there's something wrong with the story--but that it's probably fixable. And then there are the personal rejections, the ones where you know the agent/publisher really wanted to like your work but it fell just short.  And in these times, that tiny bit of shortness was an acceptance or a revise/resubmit letter.

When I first started writing with the goal of publication, I created my Wall of Shame.  It started off as a joke: I wanted to see how many rejections it would take before I got that first acceptance. (It took over 80, by the way) But since then, I've printed off and tacked up rejections that were either particularly helpful (ie-the agents I would query again) or particularly funny. (The lovely mistakes one can make with a form rejection--like sending one to Mr. Celina Summes. Those are always hysterical) Every once in a while, I go through and weed through them, getting rid of ones that have lost their charm and re-reading the personalized ones for clues as to what I need to be concentrating on. Those rejections never fail to cheer me up in a perverse sort of way.  Maybe it's because I'm a masochist. Maybe it's because I'm reinforcing my drive to continue.  Who knows?

But it works.

It's easy to get discouraged.  It's even easier to use those rejections as a sort of weapon, battering the entire publishing industry and thinking that it's 'unfair' or 'biased' or 'stupid.' It's not. Writers--all writers, including myself--have to learn eventually that rejections are actually tools you can use to gauge the market, evaluate your writing and determine which agencies or publishers are most amenable to the way that you write. So instead of getting depressed because you got that rejection in your email, get off your ass and get back to work.  Write something new or rewrite what just got rejected.  Search for a new market for the story or query the next agent on your list. Never allow yourself to get so depressed that you just can't bear the thought of one more "I'm sure another agent will feel differently and best of luck" email. Use it as a spur to perfect and hone your craft.

Because in the end, that's what it all boils down to. Success, in the end, depends upon your ability to persevere in the face of rejection.

Teddy Roosevelt once said, "Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."  Good ol' Rough and Ready was absolutely right. If you want to be a career writer, you've got to recognize failure as your greatest teacher.

Success won't come to you; you have to go after it.

Now, if you'll excuse me--I have a novel to rewrite.