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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Big R: Surviving Rejection

Rejection and disappointment may be a part of life, especially the life of a writer, but it still stinks. When I hear people say you have to develop a tough skin to be a writer, I first think, “Wow. That’s a cliché.” But then I acknowledge the truth in that statement. Being an author requires stamina and a stubborn belief in yourself, even when faced with discouragement.

Your dreams may not materialize on your time line, or maybe you’ll encounter a Dream Terminator sent from the future to crush your hopes. You’ll likely receive disappointing contest scores at times, complete with snarky comments. One of my good friends received a multiple page manifest from a contest judge that said she would make it her personal mission to insure my friend never was published in the United States… or Canada. LOL. I guess the rest of the world is okay, though.

You’ll receive rejections on queries, partials and fulls, some Hemingway himself might have penned were he alive. “Not. For. Me.” (I imagine a booming voice from the skies here.) Doesn't that give you goose bumps?

Like me, you may get, Oops, I made a mistake in insinuating I wanted to represent you. Oh, you don’t want me to represent you? Well, in that case, maybe we should talk about me representing you. I’ll call you next week. Never heard from him again. Reminds me of a bad relationship I had in college.

Speaking of mistakes… Once I was notified that I had won a contest only to have it retracted in the next email I opened. That was a fleeting moment of happiness. Apparently I’m the lightening rod for bizarre mistakes. But here are some of the things that have helped me to maintain my sanity and hope over the years when that Big R has arrived in my email inbox.

1. A great group of friends. A good support system will let you wallow, completely take your side, and validate what a shortsighted moron, mean-spirited harpy or clueless goofball the rejecting person is. However, you’re only allowed 24 hours to whine. A good group of friends then kicks you in the rump, orders you back to your writing desk, and helps you weigh the value of any feedback contained in your rejection letter.

2. Laughter. Thirteen years ago I took a tap dance class with a friend. Little did we realize when signing up for the class that our teacher had a hearing deficit that made it impossible for her to hear the word no. So, there we were. The only two adults in a kid’s dance recital. And we were both pregnant.

At the rehearsal, there were these mothers lurking in the dark audience snickering. Well, apparently they critiqued our performance and gave the notes to our teacher. The only thing on the list was “Please, please, wear a bra!” (I want to go on record that I wasn’t the one going braless.) I found their comment mortifying. I wanted to drop out of the show, but my friend made a joke about their snarkiness, and we went on to perform the next night. I was scared out of my wits, but also very proud of my bravery. Turns out we were trailblazers, because the next year our teacher had ten adults in the show. They'd all signed up for classes because of us.

For several weeks after the performance, my friend would see me at work, run up and cry, “Please, for the love of God, put on a bra!” She taught me that humor can soothe the sting of criticism. Now, I have this wonderful tale of dancing on stage, braless (not really) and pregnant. Not many people can make such a claim, or would want to, but our critics’ only claim to fame is sitting in the dark and finding fault with others. What an act of cowardice to hide behind anonymity and point out the failings of others.

3. Stubbornness. Rejection and criticism are NOT good predictors of future success. Determination is. I had a very down time earlier this year where my doubts almost got the best of me. Was I fooling myself? Was I wasting my time? Maybe I needed to accept the truth that I wasn't good enough. I would never be published. But I kept going back to these authors I met in Chicago that said they had been on the brink of giving up when they received the call. So I asked myself another question, “Could this be that time in my career?” Thank goodness, I didn’t give up, because an online pitch a short time later paid off. I can’t guarantee everyone’s journey will run the same course, but I can confidently say only the ones to stay in the race will cross the finish line.

What are some of your thoughts on rejection and how to survive it?


  1. What a great topic and a great post, Samantha! Your advice is so perfect - I really hope everyone takes it to heart.

    A couple years ago I read a bit of The Rejection Myth, and it helped me change my perspective on The Big R. It suggests that rejection actually has zero impact on your life. That you are neither better off or worse off than before you received the rejection - you've simply stayed the same. Interesting theory that has definitely helped me be indifferent to rejection emails.

    Besides, it's just one person's opinion, and there are billions of people out there :)

  2. Samantha,When I'm down I go with #1 and call on the Lady Scribes. I always know I can count on you for #2, the good laugh. #3? I think I was born stubborn. Thanks for a great post. Even though the subject is serious, I laughed all the way through it.

  3. You know, I read a blog by Rachelle Gardner earlier this week that was about how hard it is for agents to have to deliver rejections all the time. Her husband definitely had a unique perspective on the topic, and one which I took to heart. You can read it here: http://cba-ramblings.blogspot.com/2010/11/rejection-isnt-fun-for-us-either.html

    I've had an interesting relationship with rejections in terms of my writing since the beginning. Every time I've sent out queries, I've gotten requests to see more before any rejections have come in. That has made the rejections a little easier to bear...knowing that I must be doing something right, that someone is interested. And I read somewhere, before I started to query agents, that a good plan of action is to send out two more queries for every rejection you receive. I've always done that. It's helped me to remember that, while my writing may not be right for this one agent or editor, it could very well be right for these other two.

  4. Love the blog, Samantha! Rejections are a part of the business, but no one enjoys them. I think you're right though - if you give up, you'll never know what you could have accomplished.

  5. Jerrica,
    That actually is a great thought, because you're not any different after a rejection. And it is only one person's opinion. It's interesting that after I was offered a contract I received feedback from a contest I'd entered with negative remarks about the story that had just sold.

    I would hate to be in a position of having to reject people. It feels awful.

    You do an excellent job of using humor, too. You've had me rolling on the floor several times.

    Ugh! Rejections are the worst, but I'm lucky to have had you and all the other ladies to get me back on track.

  6. Wonderful blog. Very hilarious but very inspiring as well. Roflmao at the braless! At least you two didn't light them up - the bra, not the boobs LOL.

    I've had fifteen years of rejection now. Okay honestly I took a five year break to get seperated from my ex hubby but still got back in the game. I'm not going anywhere, so you might as well get used to me lol. They'll probably publish me just to get me to shut up LOL.

    Rejections sting for about a second and then I file them away, and then grow even more determined to get published. I could probably paper an entire wall with all my rejections but I'm in it to win.

    I stumbled across a quote that I've learned to live by when I was pregnant and a teen. "Obstacles are placed in our path to determine whether we really wanted something or just thought we did." by Dr. Harold Smith.

    Bring on the next obstacle.

    But I love the fact that I have a soft place to fall if and when I need it. Hopefully though I won't need it too often. Having friends in the biz is a huge plus and makes it all worthwhile -everyday.

  7. Actually laughed at vision of the pregnant, tap dancing, no-bra future author - lol. Rejection is hard, but with the support and shoulders of my critique group and writer buddies I can move forward. On my own, facing the rejections - I am not sure I would have gotten as far.
    I think we were kind of on the same wave length today. I posted about contests (where there is often rections - unfortunately. http://amydetrempe.blogspot.com/2010/11/contests.html

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  9. Do over!!!

    Flaming bras swinging overhead while dancing to "Putting on the Ritz" would have been just the touch we needed. LOL. You better hang in there, girl. Otherwise, we know where to find you. :)

    Like you, I'm not sure how long I would have made it without my support system. Little did I realize when I wrote this blog that the bra was foreshadowing to the support of good friends. ;)

    You know, ladies. We've had lots of visitors to the site today, but we seem to be the only ones talking. I'd love to hear about other writer's experiences. Seriously, can it be any worse than pregnate, free-for-all tap dancing???

  10. I handle rejections the same why I once handled job applications, because that's how I consider the submission process, a job application that I'm doing for the benefit of my manuscript. Like any job in the real world, there are more qualified applicants than there are positions, so some really good workers are not going to get that job. (I still remember being told I was "overqualifed" for positions in my younger days.)

    When an agent or editor did me the service of sending a personalized rejection, I took that as a good sign, although admittedly I seldom made changes based on them because they were often contradictory. (Really, one said my heroine was to cruel and she didn't believe the way she transformed at the end, another said the exact same heroine showed at the end that she was too smart to have ever behaved the way she did at the beginning.)

    As long as it's a job interview for my MS, the "rejection" isn't really about me, or my work. I just need to keep looking for the right fit.

  11. B.A.,
    That's great advice. It does seem to lessen the hurt if you can think of it as a position with lots of other applicants. Just because you aren't hired doesn't mean you aren't any good. They're only going with the best fit.

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. :)