Monday, April 25, 2011

Rejection: It's Not You, It's Me.

“I take rejection as someone blowing a bugle in my ear to wake me up and get going, rather than retreat.”--Sylvester Stallone
"I wrote for twelve years and collected 250 rejection slips before getting any fiction published, so I guess outside reinforcement isn't all that important to me." 
                                                                      --Author: Lisa Alther
As any author or aspiring author can vouch for, rejection comes with the territory.  Nevertheless, unless you've somehow managed to develop skin of cast iron (which you should), even knowledge of the inevitable is not enough to soothe the sting.  All my life, I did my best to avoid rejection.  I never asked out guys I had crushes on; I never tried out for sports teams that I didn't know I would make; I never took any kind of risk.  I was content to remain in my own little protective bubble.  However, as I grew older--to the ripe old age of 27--I realized that perhaps what I perceived as contentment was really just complacency.  My life was/is great, but I was denying myself of a passion that I've had since childhood: writing.  Why?  Because I didn't think I was good enough for it to take me anywhere.  Maybe I am, maybe I'm not.  The point is, one shouldn't just cast their dreams aside due to their fear of the unknown.  This brings me to my blog topic for today:  Rejection.

Over the last year (I know, I know, I'm a newb), I've learned to deal with the consequences of chasing my dreams through the harsh waters of query rejections and the brutal blow of a rejection to a full manuscript.  I haven't sent out that many queries and I'm really debating between querying and epublishing (that's a blog for another day).  But, from the rejections to the queries I've sent out, I've both received and have come up with some DOs and DONT'S on how to handle it.


1.  Don't take it personal-It's easy to think to yourself:  Why don't they like me?  What's wrong with my writing?  Maybe I'm not cut out for this after all. With that negative thinking inevitably comes a sense of deep depression.  The reality is that agents sift through thousands of query letters, and several partial manuscrips and full manscripts each month (and I'm pretty sure I'm being conservative here).  Of those query letters, there may be a handful (or more if the agent is new and actively trying to build their client list) that garner a request for the actual manuscript.  Of those manuscripts requested, there may only be one or two, if any at all, that are offered representation.  The fact is, agents are looking for writing that moves them, writing that is marketable.  Suprisingly, some times the two don't coincide.  I have a friend whose manuscript was rejected because it lacked paranormal elements.  The literary world is a subjective one.  What one agent thinks is a gem, another may think is just a pile of rocks.  Whatever the case may be, it's not a personal attack on you as a writer and shouldn't be perceived that way.

2.  Have a good cry then move on-Scream into a pillow, shed a few tears, put a few more shots of whiskey in your coffee, and grumble a few choice expletives--under your breath if, like me, you were at work when you received the craptastic news.  Do all of that then LET IT GO AND MOVE ON.  Each rejection is a stepping stone to publication.

3.  Rejoice-Whether it be Dr. Seuss, Louisa May Alcott, Agatha Christie, John Grisham, Judy Blume, Stephen King, and J.K. Rowling, all authors have faced the cold slap of rejection.  Just consider it your personal acceptance letter into an exclusive literary club and become a proud member.

4.  Get back on that horse-Don't take one, two, or even twenty "no's" as accurate indicators of your abilities.  Believe in yourself, continue to write and refine your skill.  Don't let your dreams gallop away from you.

5.  Revise-Assuming your query letter was sent to the right agent (one that represents your genre and isn't closed to submissions), a rejection based on a query letter alone is usually a sign that you need to revise.  The first query letter I ever sent out was nearly three pages long--for those of you who are familiar with the process, I'll give you a second to recover from the shock of that last statement.  I won't dwell on what makes for a decent query letter as I've already covered that in earlier posts.  My point is that unless you know the query letter you sent out is 100% perfect, you may want to consider going back to the drawing board especially if you're at a point where you've received five rejections from the same letter.  A rejection on a manuscript, however, is a completely different animal especially if no real reason is given for the rejection.  Perhaps, additional editing is needed; maybe it's not something they feel they can market; maybe they just didn't fall in love with it (gah, I hate that one).  Whatever the reason is, it never hurts to take a second look at your manuscript.  After all, you already expended copious amounts of time to write and refine it, what's a couple of more weeks going to hurt to ensure it's polished?

6.  Confer with your writing group-I'm not in a writing group, but I hear they're fabulous.  Writing groups are filled with individuals in your same boat; individuals who can and will dispense valuable advice.  Listen to their advice and apply it to your query letter, synopsis and manuscript.  If anyone wants to see you succeed it's someone who's rowing the same boat you are.

7.  Vent-Talk to your friends, family, co-workers.  Give Rover and earful.  Don't keep your feelings bottled up, let them go.  It will make you feel a heck of a lot better and allow you to reclaim your focus.

8.  Save them-Most people want to ball up each and every rejection letter and discard them from their memory as though they never happened.  I, on the other hand, prefer to save mine in a nice, neat, ever-expanding manilla folder.  I save them to remember not to become too comfortable with my writing; I save them as learning tools; I save them to remind myself that taking a risk is always worth it even if it doesn't pan out in the end.  Finally, I save them as I hope to be able to look at them one day--ten, twenty years down the road--when I'm published and need a reminder about where I've come from.


1. Go all Cujo on the agent-You're upset; it's understandable.  However, that doesn't give you automatic liberty to attack the agent or her knowledge of the business.  A few months back, I queried an agent; a new one who was actively seeking to build her client list.  Ultmately, she rejected my query letter which stung but not as bad as it had in the past.  I was upset for about five minutes, but then became positively infuriated when I saw--a blog, a tweet, I can't remember--by said agent roughly complaining about the amount of queries she was receiving and wishing that she had an electronic red "rejected" stamp so that she could just get rid of them all.  Ummmm...ouch.  Glad to know all that hard work and resarch I put in was worth it when I queried her. Anyway, writers need to understand that agenting is a buiness and they can and will run it any way they desire.  As an author, you need to resist the urge to send that scathing email or (gasp) phone call.  Thank the agent for taking the time to review your manuscript (I don't think too many people do this with queries) and move on to the next.

2.  Blame yourself-As I stated above, this business is subjective and, unless your writing is a rough, unedited first draft, most of the time it's nothing you did.

3.  Give up-This is your dream; your risk.  Don't abandon it.  Dig deep into your consciousness and re-discover your reason for writing.  You'll be amazed by how recharged you'll feel.

Some ways to increase your success with agents (I'm still in the process of perfecting these):

1.  Research-Know the agent you're querying.  Become familiar with what genre they represent, what authors they've represented, what their particular tastes are, etc.  For instance my unpublished manuscript features a strong, female protagonist.  While doing reasearch, I found an agent repping my genre who was looking for works featuring a strong female protagonist.  You can bet your ass I sent a query to her mentioning that specific statement. Invest in a subscription to Writer's Digest or borrow reference sources such as the Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents, Guide to Literary Agents or Writer's Market.  Those are excellent resources that will assist in pointing you in the right direction.

2.  Put work into your query-The agents you selected aren't going anywhere.  Don't rush through a query letter as though they're going to turn into a pumpkin at midnight. Put the same amount of thought and work into your query as you did your manuscript .  You may have a killer manuscript but if your query sucks, that probably won't matter.

3.  Don't come across as too pretentious-It's great to have confidence in your writing, but if you try to sell your novel as the next big thing, you're more than likely driving the final nail into your coffin.
I hope you all had a Happy Easter.  As always, I would love your thoughts on anything in this post--whether you think I'm right or out in left field.  Don't worry, I don't bite.

Source for great quotes:


Cecilia Marie Pulliam said...

Wonderful post. As a newbie myself, I found your words encouraging as well as informative. Thank you for sharing.

Joseph said...

I enjoyed reading your insight. I've never tried to be published before so I can't speak for myself but this seems really insightful. Thanks.

Sara Furlong-Burr said...

Thank you both for the comments. I really appreciate the feedback.