Sunday, December 08, 2013
Embracing Rejection for the Right Reasons
By OFW Member:
Published: April 09, 2014
I hear sayings like “rejection is part of winning” or “a rejection is one step closer to success” and I get really annoyed. How is rejection part of winning? One step closer to success? Sure, as long as you don’t suck. If you suck, you’re never going to be one step closer to anything.
New authors are advised to just keep writing, and to avoid thinking about the odds against them ever publishing traditionally. I think this is actually bad advice. We should definitely keep at it, but we also need to face reality and be aware of our odds. It’s far easier to keep at it when you know the odds are against you, because the prize is so much sweeter at the end, isn’t it?
When I bitched about how I was sick of the rejection ride, a well-meaning writer informed me that Stephen King is said to have submitted "Carrie" thirty times before finding a publisher. Look at him now. You know, this is really not that good an example. Why? Thirty rejections? Pfft. I’ve received hundreds of rejections. How is that motivational for me? “Well,” you might say, “rejection is nothing but a notch on your belt. The more notches you collect, the closer to success you are!” To that I'd say, "Are you high?"
Rejection has nothing to do with taking your lumps. Your imaginary belt notches are not bringing you closer to success. Writers should embrace rejection only so that we can learn from it. We don’t learn from positive feedback. It tells us nothing about how we can improve. Rejection is painful, and we want to avoid that pain in the future, so we change what we’re doing to ensure it doesn’t happen. This is why rejection is a good thing.
Why do I have five times the rejections that King had? Well, he is pretty good at what he does, but that’s not the only reason. Look, I can send thirty queries in just a few minutes. King had to send those submissions snail mail, baby. That's one reason. The other is that rejection isn’t about feedback these days. When King was querying Carrie, it wasn’t like it is in today’s industry. Feedback was expected and given when a work was rejected. Agents and publishers (for the most part) get so many queries and submissions now, thanks to the Internet, that they have to send form rejections or risk getting swallowed under their slush piles. Instead of reasons why the manuscript is being rejected, writers get a standard letter that basically says their work isn’t a good fit for that particular publisher or agent. How does one learn from “Not a good fit?” It tells us almost nothing. So, do we file it away, add our notch proudly, and then query another agent? Seems rather pointless, doesn’t it?
I’m not saying embracing or getting used to rejection is bad. The only folks who never experience rejection are those that don’t try anything. We all (writers and normals) need rejection to learn how to improve. But it’s not as simple as “collecting” rejection letters or obsessing over how many more you’ll have to gather before you’ll be taken seriously. It’s about receiving that dreaded form letter and considering why your novel is “not good enough” and then fixing the problem. I know it’s not a simple question. For every rejection I receive, I go over my query, synopsis and my manuscript, trying to figure out why it wasn’t right. Occasionally I haven an epiphany and realize a major element is just wrong. More often I know that I was rejected because my query sucks. My queries do suck. I think these days getting an agent or a publisher isn’t as much about the story as it is the presentation. Most won’t accept anything but the query initially, so odds are the rejection has little to do with your manuscript. You’re just a horrible salesman.
Sometimes we get lucky and the agent or publisher sends real feedback. For example, I queried “The Legend of Jackson Murphy.” I was asked to send three chapters, a synopsis and the query. In the rejection letter, the agent clarified he wasn’t rejecting the writing or anything regarding my skill. The story was appealing, but he felt that it wasn’t marketable and he wouldn’t be able to “sell” the manuscript to a publisher. Fair enough. What did I learn? I learned that maybe Jack needs to wait until his type of story is back in fashion. Maybe I just chose an overly cautious agent. Another manuscript,
My point is, please don’t collect rejections blindly and think the simple process helps you in any way. If you're telling new authors the whole notch your belt nonsense, just stop. Don’t embrace the number you receive or think that the quantity reflects on your odds of getting published. Think about the reasons
you received each rejection and learn from them. Embrace the opportunity to hone your skills and keep writing. Then forget about the number and move on.
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