Monday, May 30, 2011

How to Handle Those Pesky Rejection Letters


Before I  began the stressful, prescription pill-inducing, living hell known more formally as the querying process, I did my homework.  Through Internet searches and reference materials such as Writer's Market, Guide to Literary Agents, and Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents, I formulated my list of "dream agents" representing my genre.  Making note of their individual submission guidelines as well as their specific likes and dislikes, I meticulously put together my query packages, diligently stuck them in the mail, sat back, and awaited the inevitable.  Within two weeks, I received my first rejection--a photocopied form rejection--via mail.  Even though I'd been anticipating--as the odds predicted--the receipt of several, if not all, rejections to the handful of queries I mailed, when the first one arrived it still managed to hit me like a ton of bricks.  Now, after several of  those little buggers, I feel as though I'm somewhat of a seasoned veteran.  Which means that instead of giving in to the overwhelming feeling telling me to give up on my dreams,  I now allow myself to take five minutes to feel sorry for my loss then promptly kick myself in the ass and move on.

With that said, there are still times that, even with my limited knowledge of the business and its high rate of rejection, I'm unable to escape from those pervasively negative thoughts.  What was wrong with my writing?  Why didn't they like me?  Everything we as writers are told not to think occasionally floods my mind.  However, instead of these thoughts, a writer needs to start listening to what those rejections are silently telling them.  Whether it be due to a weak query letter or an unpolished manuscript, there's a meaning behind every rejection letter and it's up to you to decipher it because, unless you've received the Holy Grail of rejections--the personalized rejection--a mere form letter isn't going to give you any answers.

Still, no matter how you slice it, rejection letters suck. So after you've ascertained their meaning and have made your query letter/synopsis/manuscript better because of them, what do you do with them?  Sure, you could save them to mull over on a rainy day, but what fun would that be?  The following list includes my suggestions on how to rid yourself of this dilemma (all tongue-in-cheek, of course):

1.  Practice your origami skills--Rejection doesn't seem so devastating when it presents itself to you in the form of  an intricately folded majestic swan, faux rose, or cuddly kitten.  Line the shelves in your office and computer desk with those pulp-laden figurines.  Their adorable presence will definitely help take the edge off the blow you've just been dealt (unless you find your office being overrun with them; then they may start to become freakishly disconcerting--kind of like the Children of the Corn).

2.  Frame it--Congratulations! You are now a member of an exclusive club of writers which includes the likes of  Stephen King, William Golding, George Orwell, Ayn Rand, John Grisham, Sylvia Plath, Rudyard Kipling, Madeleine L'Engle, and Judy Blume, to name a few.  Everyone has faced rejection at some point in time in their lives.  The thing that separates the rejected successful from the successful rejects is a willingness to brush aside said rejection and soldier on.  Look at your rejection slip as proof of your accomplishment.  By merely finishing your novel, you've set out and accomplished what many people only talk about doing.  Be proud of your rejection; consider it your validation as an aspiring author.

3.  A good chuckle--Look at it this way, every 'no' is one step closer to a 'yes'. When you finally find yourself bestowed with the affirmative, dust off your old rejection letters and, with a bottle of wine (because really, what fun is just a mere glass), sit down and have a good laugh.  "Oh really, Agent J.  My manuscript wasn't good enough for you? Well,  Agent B seems to think it was the bee's knees," (breaking into popular sayings from the 1920's is completely appropriate for this moment).  Did one of your selected agents not like the characters, the plot, or your writing in general?  Take their critiques and relish in the fact that your dream agent thought them to be completely erroneous.

4.  Use them as motivation--When I was a little girl, I didn't take no for an answer.  In fact, every 'no' I received only motivated me more to attain what I wanted. As an adult, nothing in that respect has changed for me.  Call it being beautifully tenacious or just painfully stubborn, but when I find myself faced with  defeat, I immediately take it as a challenge.  Whether that challenge requires me to revamp my query letter, retool my synopsis, or completely overhaul my entire manuscript, I tackle it head-on.  When you're kicked down to the ground, take a moment to regain perspective, then stand up and hit the pavement running. Take that one 'no' to motivate you into fixing what may be wrong and completely wow the next agent you come across.

5.  Make a new playground for Mr. Snuffles--The time has come to clean out your beloved rodent's cage (or bird, whatever your pet of choice is)  and you discover you're all out of bedding.  Why book it to your local pet supply store when all the supplies you need are within walking distance?  That's right; tear all those negativity-laced correspondences up into tiny pieces and watch as your little fur ball frolics in all their subjectivity.

6.  Confetti--What's a party to celebrate your much-deserved publishing deal without confetti?  And what's more perfect for confetti fodder than your stockpile of rejection letters?  Just think of it as poetic justice in action as you watch hundreds of 'nos'  shredded-up into thousands of pieces for use in showering you as you celebrate your sweet, sweet success and the one 'yes' it took to get you there.

7.  Summer Bonfires--Nothing's better than sitting around a bonfire in your backyard on a cool summer night, letting its warmth envelope you as you lounge under the stars.  But, what's this?  You can't get the kindling to ignite?  Don't wander around the yard aimlessly in the dark when the solution is resting right under your nose; sitting next to those ravenously torn-open envelopes on your coffee table; in tear-streaked file folders on your desk; or crumpled up in balls next to the john (don't judge).  Yes, that's right. Rejection letters:  they turn more than just your dreams into piles of ash.

8.  Compare/critique form letters--Take a handful of those carefully crafted gems and put on your crit cap.  Which ones are the most helpful; the ones that aren't just mere form letters; the ones that aren't photocopied replications; the ones whose author seemed to actually care about your query?  Now, deduct points for phrases such "not right for us", "I didn't fall in love with it", "good luck" and words such as "subjective", "although", "consideration"  and "pass". Give them points for the inclusion of phrases such as "the worst thing I've ever read", "is this some kind of joke", "don't give up your day job", "you suck", "WTF is this" and words such as "hate", "why", "really", "huh" and "craptastic" (after all, honesty is the best policy).  Then tally up the scores and see who the big winner is.

9.  Practice your skills on the court--I'm not sure if it's laziness or just some deep-seeded attempt on my part to reclaim my childhood, but there's just something about an empty wastebasket and a piece of paper that brings out the Michael Jordan in me. When you find yourself running out of projectiles to hurl across the room, just ball up your disappointment (that alone should give you some sense of satisfaction) and commence dunking, free-throwing and lay-upping your heart out.

10.  Let the kiddies turn them into works of art--No matter how indiscernible their "owls" may be, children's artwork has a way of brightening even the most sour of moods.  With that logic in mind, let little Jane have at your latest literary losses.  Allow her to fingerpaint, marker and crayon the holy heck out of those letters of discontent like some deranged Martha Stewart. Just think of it as killing two birds with one stone.  You'll get to spend some quality time with your children and also gain the satisfaction of turning something ugly into a work of refrigerator-worthy art.

11. A replacement for Charmin--We've all had those moments where the roll has run empty at the most inopportune of times...okay, okay, maybe this one is going slightly overboard a little.  But don't tell me it's never crossed your mind a time or twenty.

Included below is a link to a website dedicated to actual rejection letters received by now famous authors whose novels went on to become classics:

I love reading these as they are a perfect example of just how subjective the literary world really is and how writers need to take rejection with a grain of salt.

Now I'd like to hear from you.  What do you do with your rejection letters?  Do you keep them or cast them aside like a bad memory?


Sarah Tokeley said...

I haven't sent anything out to be rejected yet but I know what I'd like to do with my rejection letters when I get them:

This is a dad ripping up his job rejection letter for his baby, for each rip the baby laughs more and more. How can that not cheer you up!

Anonymous said...

Im not at this point of the process yet but I TOTALLY plan on making a collage out of them.

Aislinn O'Loughlin said...

When I was little my Dad had a folder with so many rejection letters I thought he collected them as a hobby. He's now a doing pretty well writer back in Ireland, but all the Rs he gathered on the way there taught me a great lesson about never giving up!

Sara Furlong-Burr said...

Sarah-I love that video! That is the perfect way to handle your rejection letters. LOL, I'm still cracking up. Thank you so much for stopping by and for sharing!

Sophie-I didn't even think about a collage! That's good idea and I have enough of them to pull it off. Hmmmm...

Aislinn-Thanks for sharing! I needed to hear that right now as my confidence level is running a little bit low. I've always told myself I'd never give up, but it's good to hear stories of other people who are the embodiment of that motto and have garnered success.

JW_Firth said...

Great stuff! Good reason to post submissions and not just email - as rejection emails are a lot less fun :)

Love that video too.