Confessions of an Author: Rejection

Posted by Katie L. Carroll on February 8, 2013 in Anecdote, Confessions of an Author, Writing |

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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  • That’s a great question, Katie.

    It reminds me of an episode of Chopped I watched, in which one contestant said he had only been a chef for a short period and was fast tracking to become an executive chef. He was asked why and he answered because of the money. I remember the shocked look on the judges’ faces, probably mirrored on my own.

    A great chef, like a great writer, doesn’t write or cook for the money. That part is secondary, albeit necessary. First comes the desire to create.

    To return to the topic at hand, rejections. I’ve received a number of them over the years, and as time passes, they’ve lost the ability to hurt quite so much. I consider each rejection as a learning experience, plus I rationalize that was not the publisher for me, and that story was not right for that publisher.

    I keep going back because I know the right publisher is out there and I’m determined to find him or her. I took me a few years to get Revelations published, but I succeeded. Everything has a right time and a right place.

    Writing is who and what I am. I wouldn’t give it up for the world. No one should, unless you’re just in it for the money. If that’s the case, you’re in the wrong place.

    Very thought provoking blog, Katie!

    • Glad you enjoyed the post, Julie. Yes, yes, yes to “Writing is who and what I am. I wouldn’t give it up for the world.”

      I’ve been at this writing thing for awhile now and I keep thinking one day the rejections won’t hurt so much. No matter how much the rational part of my brain can deal with it, my heart hurts every time. But I will keep at it, because like you, it is who I am. A writer.

      Like you with Revelations, I am very pleased with succeeding in getting Elixir Bound published. It’s been a long road, and I just keep trucking along. Best of luck to you!

  • Stan says:

    Good post. I enjoyed it. In answer to your questions, rejections are rejections, whether or not the publisher or editor has kind words. What keeps me going (other than the dream of financial well-being comparable to a King, Clancy, Rice, or Rowling) is the desire, perhaps need, to tell stories. Even if I never become well off, I will continue to write and face rejection – all because I have stories to tell.

    (SS Hampton, Sr., MIU author)

    • Hi, Stan. Thanks for dropping by. Certainly we all strive for financial success, but it definitely isn’t what makes us as writers tick. I agree it’s those stories that burn inside us that keeps us all going. Love all the Muse support showing up here!

  • It’s a numbers game. Looking at the data in my spreadsheets, I have over 1280 submissions, 121 accepted, 107 published. Some rejections are really annoying, submissions you genuinely expected to be accepted. But a lot of them are just routine … for every story, there are people out there who are not going to like it, and you just found one of those. Send the damn story somewhere else.

    There are just two things you have to do in this game: Keep writing, and develop a hide like a rhinoceros.

    • C’mon, James, bringing numbers to a writing party! J/K! 🙂

      Seriously, though, you’re right. I do play the numbers game as well. I just wished they were skewed in a different direction. Less stress on my poor little heart. I’ve been writing for 10 years now and I don’t think I’ll ever have rhinoceros hide. I admire (and envy) those who do. But I won’t stop writing, thin skin and all. Thanks for the pep talk!

  • True. You do have to develop a hide like a rhinoceros. I always thought being published would be the end-all. But no! It’s just the beginning of a great deal of work, making mistakes, trying again, being ignored, wondering why. Then you go to these workshops where bestselling authors show you how you did it. And what they show you is exactly what you did. Up, down, up, down. Rhinoceros hide, where are you? It’s a mystery to me.

    • As I mentioned above, Suzanne, I am also searching for that rhinoceros hide. It’s funny how even when you get published, it still doesn’t feel like you’ve made it. I recently posed that question to a bunch of successful writer friends: When did you feel like you made it as a writer? None of them really felt that way. I guess I’m just in a down period today. Maybe I’ll be up tomorrow. Blessed to have you along the way, Suzanne.

  • Mirka Breen says:

    You know the three “R”s, (of which only one is really an R…) of basic education?–
    I think the writing life has three Rs also: Reading, wRting, and the big one- Rejection.
    When I began this particular journey, a dear dear friend who knew me very well told me he had no worries about how enriching crafting stories would be for me. What he feared was the bumpy road to publication causing me to become hard and bitter. He said this because that happened to others he knew, and he didn’t want it to happen to me.
    It helped that I fully expected years of rejection. Then, the very first one was a glowingly positive personal rejection… and I was the one left glowing, from a rejection, no less! It served me for the next eighteen months of forms.
    It got better, and it’s still getting better. I’m not speaking of the few acceptances or the more than a few ‘almosts.’ The real rewards have been ones I never knew about at the start. Like connecting with lovely people (like you) and learning how to not only write better but read better, and discovering that, well, I can do this after all.

    • Love the three Rs of the writing life, Mirka. I am certainly a better writer for the journey I have gone through and for the people I have met along the way. I’m just at a point in my career where I want more. I’ve published with small presses and I think I have a project that I go bigger with. I’d like an agent, someone in my corner to help fight the battles, someone who can help me navigate my career, someone even who can cheer me on a bit or give me tough love when I need it. I know the validation of what kind of writer I am can only come from within myself. Still, I think I’m just the type of person that is always looking for what’s next, and it leaves me open to disappointment.

  • Yep, the rejections hurt. Some more than others. But one trudges on because the love of writing is still there and isn’t extinguished even when buried under hundreds (thousands?) of rejections. What bothers me the most though, is the belief from non-writers that publishing a book is an easy thing. Not only do we deal with the rejection, but then others look over and say ‘hey, why aren’t you there yet?’ So it’s a double layered rhino skin. No wonder the writer’s community is so supportive. We all need it 🙂

    • It is helpful to have a strong writer community to turn to. I’m reading all these comments and I’m getting all squishy inside to see my personal writing community speak out and support me.

      Tonja, your thoughts reminded me how even when you get published, there’s still the hard road of getting your books to readers. As soon as we push past that mountain of getting published, there is just one more we have to climb. Then you have to listen to all those non-writers who wonder why you’re not a best-seller yet! 🙂

  • Hi Katie,

    I started with short stories which I think helped a lot. Yes, there were rejections and frustration. All of a sudden they started selling. That gave me hope. I honed the skills of an author on those short stories, most know how difficult they are to write. Then I started writing longer pieces, novellas and novels. No rejections there from the small presses, though I expected them.
    Like all here, I am a writer first who loves to put pen to paper, lol, fingers on keyboard and entertain readers.
    Great post.

    • Hi, Lorrie! Short stories are a difficult form. I always marvel how some people think just because something is short that means it’s easier to writer (this happens with picture books too). Thanks for stopping by…glad you enjoyed the post. I’m always just spinning my own wheels over here at the Observation Desk.

  • So true. Rejection hurts. The ones that hurt the most but were very helpful were not the form letters but the ones where editors and agents gave some insight to why they rejected it. It helped me move foward.

  • Elle Druskin says:

    I think it is important to distance oneself from the rejection. It is not personal, it is a rejection for any number of reasons of the work, not the person as a writer. Of course, it’s tremendously helpful if any feedback is given for improvement.

  • Hi, Elle! I keep telling myself rejection isn’t personal. The rational side of my brain accepts that, but the emotional part wants to hide under the bed for the rest of the day. And, yes, helpful feedback is useful. One the other hand, I’ve been known to read too far into the feedback…just one way my mind is always thinking too much.

  • Meradeth says:

    Reading this totally had me right back in that naseau inducing mid-querying state with some book or other. Ugh! Totally don’t miss that feeling at all. But I guess I keep coming back because I have some hope somewhere that I’ll eventually do this “right” and people will enjoy my stories. Or, well, maybe I’m just a little masochistic 🙂

  • J.Q. Rose says:

    I’d say your choice of words to describe the results of receiving a rejection is perfect. It IS “soul-sucking.” I’ve had plenty including one with feedback that told me I used “as” too much. Say what? You can bet I put “as” in the word finder program and excised as many AS I could. LOL…I hate the form rejection, but appreciate the ones that tell my why I was rejected. One publisher told me in my book for girls, I needed to have an interview with a nationally, well-known person to sell the book, like Miley Cyrus. Great post. It’s comforting to know we all have to go through rejection…sigh…Best wishes.

    • Great story about excising the word “as” from your mss. It’s so funny the things we do when we do get feedback. Not that I wish rejection on anyone, but it is a comfort to know other writers know what I’m talking about. Best wishes to you too, J.Q.

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