Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Dealing with rejection

Don't forget - today is the today your 100 word entries are due! Don't miss the chance to get feedback from published authors Roseanna M. White and Christa Banister. Not sure what I'm talking about? Click here for details about the current Go Teen Writers' writing contest.

When I asked the Go Teen Writer's Facebook group about writing fears of theirs, one of the prominent ones was "rejection." Rejection from publishing houses, even though they've worked so hard to make their novel strong.

Rejection is part of the writing life. Really, it's just part of LIFE. But since writing is a choice we make, when the rejection (or the fear of rejection) grows intense and strong, it's easy to think, "Why am I even doing this?!

This is normal. All writers go through it. Even those writers you love and admire.

Since the majority of those in the Go Teen Writer community are unpublished, I'll focus on dealing with rejection then.

First, I encourage you to accept rejection is part of this path. The rejections you get from agents and editors, consider those preparation for mean-spirited Amazon reviews or bloggers who bash books for sport. Or for the really tough ones - the ones that offer criticism that you maybe, sorta, if-you're-being-100% honest agree with.

When rejection comes - especially when you're just starting out - it's completely normal that you feel like the victim of a drive-by shooting. The first time I queried literary agents, I lived in an apartment by myself. It's not too far from where I live now, and when I drive by there I always think about standing in the little mail room, ripping open the responses. Trying to race back to my apartment before I burst into tears.

In the beginning, I put a lot of pressure on myself to take rejection like a pro. To not let it bother me. Don't do that. It's okay to cry and be upset. Thick skin takes time to build and even now I'm not so sure how thick mine is.

I started querying agents in 2001/2002. Most agents still preferred snail mail to email, and social networking didn't exist. (Groan- I'm old!) So this isn't something I struggled with when I was in the early stages of my career, but do not, whatever you do, write a nasty blog post about who rejected you or vent about it on Facebook. It's a bad, bad, bad idea. I hear rumors that one of the first things an agent or editor does after they decide they like your book is they Google you. You do not want to be caught writing something nasty like that.

Instead, have a friend you can call when you hear bad news. They don't have to be a writer, they just need to "get it." Roseanna is the person I make those kinds of phone calls to, and I'm the one she calls too. We've never discussed this, but we both have an understanding that in that initial conversation, WE are not the problem, nor is our book. THEY have the problem. THEY are short sighted. THEY just passed up a huge opportunity.

After whichever of us was rejected as cooled off a bit, then we might allow that maybe - just maybe - the person was right about this particular thing they said. But only that! The rest is hogwash! Oh, well, they did make kind of a good point when they said such-and-such ... and how could we incorporate this suggestion of their's into the manuscript, because that's really not a bad idea. In fact, hadn't we already decided that this character was a bit flat..?

Those conversations are the best. I encourage you to build that kind of relationship with someone.

So if you can't blast them on the internet, how should you respond when you get a rejection letter from an agent or editor? You write them a thank you note.

On real paper, with a real stamp, and all that good stuff. You tell them thank you for taking the time to look at your submission, thank you for the feedback (if they provided any),  and you stick it in the mail within a day of the initial rejection.

This won't change their mind, of course, but it does take away the power the rejection has over you. I don't know what the science is behind that statement, but when I write my "Thanks for that great rejection!" notes, it feels like closure. I can breathe better after I drop it in the box.

Of course your rejection might be coming from a contest rather than an agent/editor. Back in 2008, I entered the first chapter of Me, Just Different in ACFW's Genesis contest. I'm sure I've mentioned this on here before, how I entered "knowing" the chapter would final. Uh, no. It did not. My judges were kind, but they were also honest. The biggest complaint was they hated Skylar. (Had I been on the phone with Roseanna, I would have said to her, "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard! You're supposed to! What's the point of a reinvention if she doesn't need to be reinvented?!?")

But they were right-on with their criticism, and without it, I wouldn't have done my rewrite, and Me, Just Different never would have been published. I can see that now, but at the time, all I felt was the rejection.

This isn't to say that everything you read in a rejection letter is going to be good advice. I also had someone suggest to me that instead of dating, Skylar and Connor should become prayer partners. Maybe another writer could pull that kind of ending off, but not me.

And something to remember as you wrestle with rejection is agents, editors, contest judges, etc. are not rejecting you, just your book. I know how personal your projects feel because mine feel the same way. It's important to regularly remind yourself that they aren't calling you a self-absorbed brat, just your character.

When you get a rejection, or a particularly harsh critique from your writing group, don't be afraid to step back, and indulge in something that recharges you. For me, it's cooking something fun (read: time-consuming and messy) and having a movie night with my husband. What about you?


  1. Also keep in mind that often times in this world, rejection of one project does NOT mean a closed door forever! Both the publishing houses I'm working with (not counting WhiteFire, which my hubby owns) rejected me before they accepted me. Summerside took a contemporary of mine to committee and ended up passing on it--but then asking me for a historical. And Harvest House rejected a different contemporary, several historicals (one TWICE, LOL), and sat on a whole slew of proposals before the one they ended up buying caught my editor's eye.

    That's another reason why it's important to handle those initial rejections WELL. You can, even through a rejection, make friends with an agent or editor. Which will mean they're happy to look at more from you later. And you just never know which project will be The One for them!

    Oh, and of course it's all hogwash when anyone dares to say something negative about Stephanie's work. She's awesome. ;-)

    1. I hadn't even thought about that, Roseanna! What a great point.

      And thank you :)

  2. First of all great article! I especially like the Thank You note idea. I would never have thought of that! :-)

    I was wondering though, how do you know if you need to give up (at least temporarily) on one book and concentrate on another. I know sometimes its finding the right publisher for your book, but other times its the book itself. Especially with teen authors when our writing hasn't matured. How do you know if you need to move on? Rather than plowing through another revision...
    Thanks so much!

    Your comment was also helpful Roseanna. Thank you! :)

    Hm. I haven't tried to get published yet, but I've gotten rejections from contests and auditions. Other than talking with friends I draw, listen to music and read. I'm a Christian so I pray, and for me that's the most helpful. :) I find that sometimes I learn more from not getting what I want.
    Another positive, dealing with rejection can grow character!

    1. What wonderful perspective, Leila! That's true, it can.

      As to your question ... that's tricky. I have certainly given up on manuscripts, and when I glance at them now, I'm glad I did. For various reasons, they were never going to work right.

      But I've also had manuscripts that I was ready to give up on that a writer friend talked me back into keeping. (Stephen King threw a draft of "Carrie" into the trash, but his wife dug it back out and encouraged him to keep at it.)

      So ... I think sometimes you just have to go with your gut or discuss it with a trusted friend. It can be a good test to put something away for a month or 6 weeks, then pull it back out and see how you feel. I've done that before. About half the time I see potential and get excited about the idea again. The other half, I file it away.

  3. Thank you so much for posting this! I always try to convince myself that I'm not afraid of being rejected- I know I'm a good writer, I can always query others, blah-blah-blah- but I do kinda sorta maybe have a secret fear of getting rejected. I'm on the final stages of finishing my novel and I'm just about to start drafting my queries and start shipping them off. I'm terrified of what people will say. My book is a historical novel for young adults, which is a very small market (or so I've heard, anyway) and I fear that people will think I'm a teeny bopper who can't write.

    This post, however, has given me more courage to try querying. Does this apply to querying agents as well as querying straight to the publishers? I want to start with an agent first, just because I scared myself by trying to read about publishing contracts.

    Thanks for posting this! I just found your blog.

    1. Hi! I'm so glad you found us.

      I'm noticing a decent amount of historical YAs these days. Those kinds of things go in waves, it seems. So hopefully your genre won't be a blockade! Rachel Coker is a teenager who has a historical YA published, and she's contracted for at least one more ... maybe two, I can't remember. It can happen!

      This absolutely applies to agents as well. In fact, I really recommend querying agents first. For one thing, many publishing houses have stopped looking at "unsolicited manuscripts" and they rely on agents to find authors for them. But even outside of the scary contract stuff, agents can be wonderful career coaches and cheerleaders.

  4. Chocolate!
    Rejection is part of life so maybe just looking at others areas you've met rejection or dissappointment and then overcame it would be helpful.

    1. Ha! Love that Chocolate jumping out of hiding there, Tonya! :) :)

  5. I usually vent to my sister and/or a friend, eat peanut butter by the spoonful (hey, don't knock it till ya try it), watch an old musical (Funny Girl, Hello, Dolly!, and Singin' in the Rain never fail to make me smile), and blare my Happy Playlist till I can't any more :P Anyone else just stumble on the same realization that I did?: I'm a nerd. lol

    1. Lydia, I think you just became my newest favorite person. ;) I LOVE Hello, Dolly! and Singin' in the Rain... they are sooo awesome. Definitely my guilty pleasure movies.

    2. Why dip a spoon when you can use a marshmallow instead? :)

      I love that you have a "Happy Playlist." That's excellent!

    3. Clarebear, it is SO rare to find someone who's heard of Hello, Dolly! which version do you like? And shuckles, it's an honor :P
      Stephanie, why didn't I think of that? You my friend, are a genius. "Ma! Do we have any marshmallows?" My happy playlist has over a hundred songs on it - can you tell I'm a fan of music and smiling?

    4. You can't get any better than Barbra Streisand playing Dolly Levi. If I had any talent in acting (though my family calls me rather dramatic...*cough*) I would want to be as good as her. She's just awesome. :)

      And marshmallows and peanut butter sounds great, but I've found that peanut butter and oreos have therapeutic qualities as well. ;)

    5. Claire- you have to try pb & marshmallows! It's so good. When I lived in the northeast they sold this stuff called marshmallow fluff. It's a marshmallow spread & we would put it on snadwhiches with pb.

      Also, pb & Oreos is a fave of mine too. Have you noticed though that the pb Oreos arent as good as when you put it on yourself?

    6. THAT I will have to try. Chocolate + Peanut butter = Best Idea Ever.

    7. You must try. No rejection needed!

    8. Clarebear, I wish I had Barbra Streisand's VOICE, oh my garsh! She is a fabulous actress, but I think I love her singing even more. "My, whatever put that silly idea into my head--your head!" My fam thinks I'm dramatic also --wonder where they got THAT idea? Hmmph!--
      Tonya, I'm a fan of starting habits that I see in books and movies, and I have been dipping Oreos in peanut butter since Parent Trap :) SO yummalicious!

  6. I find this post amusing. Mostly because I recently wrote this one:

    1. Emily, I think thank you notes in the face of rejection will come very naturally to you :) Thanks for sharing!

  7. Chocolate is something that always makes me feel better when I'm down lol. And then my favorite movie or book.

  8. Ooh! I love things that make me feel better after something makes me feel not-so-good. I think I'm going to love the whole reply-to-the-rejection thing. And isn't that what the Bible says, too? Give your enemies good in return?

    I think it's great how we're getting excited for these rejections.;)

  9. 'When rejection comes - especially when you're just starting out - it's completely normal that you feel like the victim of a drive-by shooting.'

    I laughed out loud when I read that sentence. I just received my first rejection last Friday and what you wrote really summed up how I felt. I had experienced rejection in other parts of my life but this rejection felt worse because my writing is personal form of expression. I'm okay now and your suggestions about how to handle rejection is good advice.