I recently came across this article about how publishing houses handle rejection letters. Shared on Facebook and promptly got into a couple of very good discussions about several elements the article presented. As I found it about a week after this blog post, which talks about the culture of entitlement and victimhood, I will admit my mindset was a bit skewed going into it, but thinking back, I still stand by my opinion that rejection is a natural and necessary part of growing as a writer and creator. Here is why:
1. REJECTION IS A REALITY CHECK
No matter how good your friends and family tell you your writing is, as soon as you present it to the world at large, you will find people who disagree. And that’s okay–as long as you’re prepared for it. It’s impossible to please everyone at the same time, and you shouldn’t try. But if you keep expecting everyone to gush in awe, you’ll end up hurt, disappointed, and disillusioned. And if you don’t learn to deal with it positively, you’ll learn to hate writing, or yourself instead.
2. REJECTION TOUGHENS YOUR SKIN
Yeah, it hurts. But you know what? It’s a growing pain. People will say bad things about your book, and the more people see it, the more bad feedback there will probably be. It’s simply a numbers game. Accepting this early on makes those future bad reviews a lot less painful. You learn to roll with the punches, to translate the nasty feedback into constructive criticism you can use to improve next time.
3. REJECTION DESTROYS EGO
Like it or not, this is a good thing, necessary even. Ego has no place in fiction. Ego makes you use fancy words and unnecessarily long sentences to show off. It makes you overfocus on a single character (perhaps the narrator in first-person perspective?) to the point of mind-numbing boredom. You can always tell through a book whether the writer is an egotist. It sweats through the pages and blinds you with the character’s garish limelight.
4. REJECTION IS A PRIVATE BLOW
As someone in the debate very wisely pointed out, a rejection letter, while painful, is private. It’s a message from the agent/publisher directly to you. No one else sees it (unlike negative reviews), so you can process it on your own, and then move on without anyone being the wiser. Like a butterfly struggling its way out of a cocoon, each one quietly makes you a tiny bit stronger and better able to fly.
5. REJECTION IS A TRIAL BY FIRE
A bit of tough love for you (she says with a supportive smile): Let’s be real here. If you can’t handle one rejection letter, rude or otherwise, odds are you won’t be able to cope with criticism and bad reviews published online for all the world to see. The fact of the matter is, those things happen; can’t avoid them, and if you want to do this professionally for any length of time, you need to learn to take it in stride. The strong ones, those in it for its own sake, don’t let something so trivial stop them. They keep going, keep writing, submitting, trying again and again, despite the rejection, the criticism, the naysayers, and the haters. They do it for the love of penning fantastic tales. Those who only do it for the fame and accolades, on the other hand, tend to give up fairly quickly after a blow like that. It’s not worth the ego-pain to them. They’ll move on to something else that’s easier to do, and easier to praise.
6. REJECTION MAKES YOU BETTER
Yeah, I said it, and yeah, I’ll stand by it. Writers aren’t born special little snowflakes. Writing might come naturally to some, but it doesn’t make them best seller material with the first draft of the first book (even though many think it will). We get better through trial and error. We work at this as hard as any other artist learning their craft. Technique, voice, vocabulary, style, genre, characterization, plotting, story arc, all of this is learned through long years of writing hundreds upon hundreds of pages of new material. But here’s the thing. No matter how driven and self-motivated you are, if all you ever hear is how great you are, you will never feel the need to one-up yourself. You will never stretch beyond that comfort zone to reach for something better. You will stagnate, rest on your laurels, and eventually realize the hard way, having wasted years on complacency, that you can and need to do better. Having someone tell you they hate a piece of your writing might suck, but at the same time it’s a lifeline pulling you up higher. Because now you know something is lacking, and now you have something to prove–that you can do better.
7. BAD MANNERS ARE A FACT OF LIFE
I include this paragraph because someone will inevitably point out that the article wasn’t about rejections, but rude rejections. Yes, I am aware, and with that other blog post in mind, I have this to say: Get over it. The world doesn’t owe you any special courtesy. You’re not entitled to people bending over backwards to avoid hurting your feelings. Do you know what that rude rejection means? It means someone picked your book out of a pile of possibly hundreds, took the time to read enough of it to form a powerful opinion, and then took even more time to personally respond to you to share that opinion. That’s way more than most people get. Take what you can out of it, use it to improve your book, and move on. It is completely possible that you have a ways to go before you’re ready to submit again, and if that’s the case, go back to your writing desk and get to work. On the other hand, it could also be that you’re fully ready to be published, with a story powerful enough to righteously piss someone off. Maybe that one place wasn’t the right audience, but that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong book. Submit elsewhere, or publish independently. A story doesn’t have to make readers feel good in order to be great. It just has to make them feel.
And now I’ll get off this soap box and back to walking my talk. 🙂
Until next time!