Confession #4: Rejection might be the one thing that makes me quit this whole business of publishing.
Rejection. It’s something every author faces time and time again. It’s fear inducing, debilitating, soul sucking.
I think for most authors the writing journey begins in a blissful place. Inspiration strikes. You decide, I’m a writer…or at the very least, I’m going to write something worthy of publication. You write, and write, and write. Probably a lot of bad stuff, but you’re not aware of how bad it is; in your blissful ignorance, you keep going. Maybe even stumble upon some good writing.
You begin sending your work out, probably before it’s really ready for mass consumption. But again, you’re ignorance keeps a buffer around you. Publishers reject you. No worries! They don’t know what they’re doing; they just passed up on the next J.K. Rowling. They’ll regret it one day. Maybe one rejection has some encouraging words. That’s the thing you latch on to. The ego of the innocent feeds off of it.
Then reality hits. You realize, maybe my work’s not that good. I need to actually…ahem…revise! Those people who rejected you might actually know what they’re talking about. Still, you persevere. Okay, rookie mistakes. Buck up and keep improving.
You work, work, work at creating, honing, revising. Your writing benefits from all the hard work. Maybe you join a critique group, get some positive feedback and productive criticism. You begin to thrive as a creative person. You feel like your work is actually ready for mass consumption…and just maybe others will think so too.
With your improved knowledge of writing, you realize it’s a good idea to study up on the business side of publishing as well. You learn how to write an effective query, target your submissions, what your looking for in an editor or agent. You check and double check that you’ve spelled all the names right, that the grammar in your letter is perfect, you have the right sample pages included. You hit send (or if you’re doing it the old-school way, apply the correct postage).
Now comes the waiting. The incessant checking of emails/mailboxes. The nail-biting. Commiserating with writer friends over the process of having stuff out there. Then the rejections start rolling in. You try to focus on a new project. Keep your mind off the hole your email inbox is burning in you brain.
Your stomach is in a constant state of queasiness. You starve yourself, too sick to eat, and then gorge yourself on chocolate and caffeine. More rejections roll in. Time limits pass, and you get rejected by query expiration date, no reply required.
Sure a lot of good stuff happens along the way. Meeting other writers, forming great working relationships and personal ones you keep forever. A few close calls with a dream agent or editor. But there’s still so much rejection.
Even if you land a publishing contract, it might not be what you were always hoping for. You sign with a small press or decide to self-publish or get a low advance. Maybe you did land a great contract, but then the big reviewers don’t like your book or ignored it all together. Maybe your sales fall short of expectations; you don’t reach as many readers as you hoped. Your option book doesn’t get picked up.
Rejection, rejection, rejection. The old death by a million paper cuts (and you don’t even use real paper to write anymore!). And it hurts. Gives you days where you’re not sure if you can keep going, deluding yourself into thinking you can make it as a writer. Keeps you from revising because it’s just going to be crap anyway, no matter how much you work at it.
I guess a lot of writers don’t even make it to this point. They gave up back a handful of paragraphs ago after the first rejections. What keeps you going? Your love of a character, the way you can escape into a world you’ve created, an insatiable need to succeed, the fact that you’re a glutton for punishment.
Whatever it is, you keep going. Right…it’s worth it to keep going? The punch in the stomach with that email that sends you into a downward spiral. “Thanks for thinking of us, but we’re going to have to pass on that manuscript you’ve spend months, years, decades working on. The one that you poured your soul into. The one that has blood marks on it from where your heart leaked all over it. Yup, that one. It’s not good enough for us. Don’t worry, publishing is a subjective business. It’s not personal.”
Yet every single one of those rejections is personal to you. The story you wrote is deeply personal. You maybe even put more work into that than you did into your own life.
So what do you do when you’ve traveled down every single path you could find and came up with dead ends? Well, I guess you start over. Get a spark of inspiration. Feel the tingle of a new story…of hope…in your fingertips. And you do it all over again. Right, you do it all over again. You’re a writer. That’s what you do.
What kinds of rejections have you faced in your writing career? And what keeps you going back for more?
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