Rejection sucks. Big time. I’m pretty sure we can all agree on that. But the truth is, nobody gets through this life without experiencing it somewhere along the way, no matter how rich or beautiful or talented you might happen to be.
Everybody’s been there. Some other kid gets the part you wanted in the school play. Another candidate is selected for the job. The person you are sure is your True Love and Divinely Ordained Soulmate loves somebody else. Every time it happens, it hurts. Some of us take it more or less in stride. Others of us take every rejection deeply to heart, sure that it means we are deeply flawed and somehow not worthy to be here on this planet.
Here are two sadly twisted truths of the universe:
1. A lot of people who are born with the need to write are sensitive souls who are devastated by rejection.
2. Writing professionally guarantees a constant onslaught of rejection.
If you are a writer and you have not yet experienced rejection of your writing, then either your work is hidden away somewhere or you’ve only showed it to people who love you deeply. If you expand your horizons, it’s inevitable that you’re going to come up against people that just don’t like your work. And for a lot of us, this feels very much like they don’t like us. Or like they think our kids are stupid and ugly, which is worse.
When I was at the querying stage, I believed that once I managed to unlock the Magical Agent Gates the horrible, soul curdling rejections would never happen again. I dreamed of making a pyre of those rejection slips and dancing around it with glee while I erased all memory of the people who didn’t love my writing. Maybe roasting hot dogs and marshmallows, even. Oh all right, my rejection accumulation wasn’t that big, but if I include all of the rejections over all of the years – for the picture book attempts, and the poetry, and the other novels – it was a significant accumulation.
My fairy godmother finally waved her magic wand and I got an agent and a publisher in one fell swoop. This gave me some nice recovery time to heal and prepare for the next round. During that time I watched agented friends go Out On Submission. This is the publishing version of the Hunger Games, in which your agent sends your beloved book out to make the rounds of publishing houses. And you sit behind your computer screen watching other writers achieve brilliant publishing contracts while editors make polite excuses as to why your wonderful, polished, perfect book isn’t a good fit for them.
If the stars line up and you work very hard and sacrifice the right kind of chicken on a full moon Sunday to the appropriate god or goddess – you get that publishing deal and your book is released and makes its way into the big wide world. Oh Frabjous Day! Great Joy and Wonderment and celebratory occasions. Surely now all of that rejection stuff is past.
But no. Now there are Real World Readers and Reviewers who do not like your book. Who might even say callous and heartless things like, “this book is a hot mess” or “the plot is ludicrous,” or “I didn’t finish it, I couldn’t connect with any of the characters.”
Once again, rejection.
This will happen – I don’t care how brilliant you are as an author. And it’s up to you to find a way to handle it. I’ve only found a couple of things that work for me.
1. Hands off the keyboard until you are calm and rational. Don’t fall into the trap of emailing the rejecting agent to tell them how stupid they are for turning down your masterpiece. Don’t share your weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth with everybody on your Twitterfeed. And really – don’t post rants on Goodreads or your blog or wherever about specific reviewers who didn’t like your book. It’s a free country; they have the right of free speech.
2. Do find a couple of trusted people to whom you can rant and vent and express your feelings. Make sure they are the sort of people who will support and encourage you.
3. Set limits on your despair. Allow yourself a couple of hours or maybe even a day to wallow in your misery. And then suck it up. Wash your face. Comb your hair. Put away the chocolate and the ice cream and wipe up the counter. Which leads us to Number Four, the single most important way to deal with rejection as a writer:
4: Write Something New. Yep. This is, I believe, the cure. Writers write, pure and simple. And if you’re busy writing the next thing, you have little emotional energy available for worrying about what people think about the last thing. Of course, once you’re done with the next thing, somebody is going to reject it again, which means you’re going to have to write yet another thing. And so it goes. The Cycle of the Writerly Life.
Yeah, now I can almost hear the soundtrack from the Lion King playing, but instead of that I leave you with a clip from Willy Wonka. (Not that any rejected writer would ever behave in this way. Uh uh. No Sirree Bob)