It might seem a little strange to begin a new year and a column on writing with the topic of rejection - after all acceptance or rejection is what happens at the end of all the hard work, right? But if you're here, and you're reading this, I'm guessing that for the majority of you, you've already finished at least one manuscript. If you're just beginning your writing journey, well, read on, because what I'm about to say may come in handy at a later date.
Most of you have probably written a story; you've probably written a synopsis and a query letter and you have also probably sent it off into the world for an editor or agent to read. The ultimate goal - the scene you dream about just before you fall asleep at night is of getting The Call. Or perhaps even a request for a full manuscript, or the chance to do revisions which is the next best thing to The Call and brings for the following words time and time again - "You're Close."
And so, many of you have already had that nasty slip of paper or e-mail saying thanks but no thanks.
Rejection sucks. It just DOES. There's no way around it but through it. And rejection can make or break a writer. Here's a newsflash, too. It doesn't stop after you're published. You just never know when you send in a book, no matter how much you love it (Been there, bought the T-shirt and survived). And personally, in some ways rejection is harder now than it was before the call. I always used to work on something new and exciting while waiting on a submission, so when I got the inevitable rejection, I took a day or so to pout and then I got excited about sending out the NEW submission, which I was sure was brighter and shinier and simply better than the last. Most of the time I was right.
Being rejected after publication isn't easy. There are practicalities to consider: if this book is rejected, all my contracted deadlines suddenly go out the window. I am now a full book behind schedule. Not really my fault, after all I've probably delivered what I said I would. But for some reason or another, the book doesn't suit and so now the walls of time feel like they are closing in around me and I feel more pressure to deliver. If this is my livelihood, it also means a bigger gap between releases - and a bigger gap before being paid again. A bigger gap before putting a book in readers' hands - and maybe, but hopefully not - a chance that they'll forget to look for my newest release. You kind of have to let this all go. What's done is done, and what you really need to do is get on with the next book, because that's the only way to move forward. You have to write the next one.
But the true cost of rejection is what it can do to a writer's confidence, and this doesn't discriminate between the published and unpublished. Raise your hand if you've ever thought, "I really don't know what I'm doing." I have those thoughts a lot. Added with that particular piece of self-doubt is "I did know what I was doing, but now I'm not so sure. Have I lost it?" This is a terrifying thought. And here's the thing about the crows of self-doubt. They beget other crows. So then you start thinking..."maybe the goalposts have been moved. Maybe I don't understand what my editor wants anymore. Maybe my writing has changed and no longer fits their requirements. Maybe I really don't know what I'm doing." Oh wait - that's where we started, right? And all those thoughts cause havoc in the whole "getting on with things" thing.
Get out your broom and kick those crows to the curb.
Here's the important thing. My critique partner, Michelle Styles, always tells writers at eharlequin subcare that it's what you do AFTER the rejection that counts. And ultimately in the end, the only way to succeed is to move on.
If you get the Big R and are convinced the editor was wrong, if you look at the feedback and dispute it, in other words if you are closed to the idea that your book is flawed, you will probably stay exactly where you are. That's not to say you can't have moments of righteous outrage; in fact, sometimes that indignation is simply part of the process of dealing with the rejection. But this is a short term thing. It isn't a long-term strategy, my friends. And a rejection can be a blessing. Many times it signals that your work is just not ready for publication, and it's worth it to keep trying. You will get better if you keep writing. And when you sell, you'll be prepared for what lies ahead for you.
And here's the other thing - the only sure way to fail is to stop trying. If you get angry, mourn, eat chocolate, drink too much gin...again SHORT TERM strategy people!...that's okay. As long as in the end your butt is in the chair and you're working on the next great idea. As long as you move on.
Because one rejection is not the end. It is not even close. It's just the beginning. And some day down the road you might know exactly what that story needs to take it from good to Holy Crap Fantastic. Don't let rejection get you down. Don't let it play games with your head. Don't let it have too much power. File it away and move on.
Wow them with something else. Because you can. The key words aren't "I didn't." They are "I can." If you didn't make it with the last one, nothing will change it now. But just like a brand new year, the possibilities are endless. Opportunities are waiting. This year, we're going to work on seizing them.
Welcome to 2011. Let's write.