Monday, November 02, 2009

What NOT To Do With Rejection

Last week, I posted about how you can turn rejections from editors and agents to your advantage. This week, I want to take a look at how rejection can affect you personally.

When we write a story, often times the story comes from places deep within us. It’s often been said that writers are basically running around naked, because so much of their stories can come from themselves. So, right off the bat, we have a deeply personal stake in our work.

Then, we work and work and work, sometimes for years, trying to get everything just right. Most people have a job on top of this, perhaps even a family. You could be working on your next promotion, spending time with your significant other or kids, hanging out with your friends, sleeping, reading, exercising, or any number of other activities. But you choose to write because it’s important to you. Several more personal stakes right there.

After all this, you get to the point where you think your work is ready, and you send it out. What happens? You get rejected. Not just once, but many times. Even if you turn those rejections to your advantage and revise, you still may never find someone to take on your project. And that is the ultimate rejection.

But there is still a light at the end of this depressing tunnel: agents and editors don’t intend rejections to be personal. They are in a business, and are looking for things they can sell. If they don’t know how to sell it, then it’s not in anyone’s best interest for them to take it on. So, the simplest, and probably hardest, thing you can do is this: Don’t take their rejections personally.

I know that’s easier said than done, so here are some tips that might help you keep an optimistic attitude throughout this difficult process.

-When you begin querying, decide up front whether you want an agent or an editor. If you decide to go the editor route, keep in mind that if you can’t find one, you won’t be able to go back and look for an agent. At least, not with that project. If you’ve already shopped your project around to all the publishing houses and been turned down, then where is the agent going to go with it? However, if you go the agent route first and don’t find any takers, you can still search for editors on your own. Thinking about this before you begin querying may save you some headaches down the road.

-Even though you may be tempted to, don’t advertise how many times you've been rejected, or by whom. I’ve heard many an agent say that if they can see all the other people who didn’t want your project, then why would they? It makes them predisposed to wonder ‘what’s wrong’ instead of just focusing on your work, or even on what can be improved.

-There will probably be a time when you get a rejection that stings. Really stings. Maybe the rejecting agent was harsh and snarky in her letter. However, that doesn’t mean you should be. Don’t write back with nasty comments, and never publicly rant about how misunderstood your work is or how stupid the agent/editor was. Instead, you have to rise above this and remain professional.

That is, you have to remain professional publicly...which leads me to my last tip, probably the most helpful of all.

-Find a support system for you to vent, scream, cry, rant, rage, or anything else you can think of. Just make sure it’s not a public venue, like message boards, blogs, Twitter, email listserves, etc. There is nothing wrong with having a personal reaction to a rejection. You just need to keep it personal and private. Otherwise any agents or editors who overhear you might think you can’t handle the publishing world, and will pass you by even if your work shows merit. That’s the last thing you want. After you’ve had your rant, then you can go back to the rejection to see if there was any useful information in it. If so, you can use it. If not, you can toss that rejection and keep going.

Probably the easiest way to think of all this is to imagine how you would behave in a normal job. If you regularly snip and snarl at your coworkers, then no one is going to want to work with you. If you rant to your coworkers about how so-and-so doesn’t know how to do his job, that’s going to get back to the person in question and put a strain on your working relationship. If you tell your boss that he’s an idiot, you might lose your job. Or, at the very least, you aren’t going to get that raise or promotion you’ve been working so hard for.

But, generally, people don’t do this. Instead, we go home and rant to our loved ones. The ones who will listen and support us, and give us tea or chocolate cake to ease the pain and frustration. Writing is no different. So, find that support system, vent and rant to your heart’s content, and then get back to your work and make it so good that no one will be able to say “No.”


Solvang Sherrie said...

Excellent points, Tabitha. I especially like the one about approaching agents before editors. I almost did it backwards when I was starting, but your reasoning makes perfect sense.

Yunaleska said...

Wise words here indeed :) Keeping frustrations off blogs is advisable - you never know who might be reading it.

Keri Mikulski said...

Wonderful post!! :) So true - especially the support system. :)

PJ Hoover said...

Great post, Tabitha! I love the support network thing. It is SO huge. You know, for when I finally do ever get a rejection :)

Paul Greci said...

Good advice: Don't take it personally, and, keep writing.

J.Tuttle said...

Oh,that was a really good post. Just what the doctor ordered, too! I'm lucky that I have an EXCELLENT support system! Thanks!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for the great post, Tabitha. It's good advice to make a decision at the beginning about whether to query agents or editors and how you could shut door by starting with editors. Also, great advice to have a good support system for when you get those inevitable rejections.

Kelly said...

And besides family at home, no better support system than other writers!

Laura Scarlett said...

Very good points. I always try to approach it like a job interview. It still hurts when you get the "Dear John" but you have to keep moving or you'll never get what you want.