Ask any writer who’s ever gone through the query process and they will tell you rejection sucks. It’s hard to have someone else tell you that your work isn’t right for them, especially when you’ve poured your heart and soul into your writing. Perhaps you’ve left the nurturing of your child up to the household electronics. Or maybe you developed sleep patterns that get you looks of pity from mothers of newborns. Regardless, to write means to sacrifice.
Sometimes rejections come in the form of well-worded, supportive notes about finding the right agent with encouragement to keep writing. Sometimes the rejection is more along the no response equals no interest line. And still others are form rejections. It doesn’t matter how they’re worded. They still deliver a sting to the creative ego.
But I have a theory that the rejection process is part of what makes someone a better writer. I admit, I cried when I got my first rejection, and for the record, I totally deserved it. Still, I had a moment where I thought I was fooling myself. What made me think that I had what it took to be a published writer? I was at a crossroads. In one directions was the easy life of being a stay at home mom and getting a job at a craft store when the boys finally went off to school or I could venture down the avenue where I had faith in my talent and followed my passion.
Some people might think taking the easy way would be the right choice. Except for one thing. I’m a writer. I may not be published yet, but when asked the question, “If you had an entire weekend to yourself with no commitments or obligations how would you spend the time?” I responded, without hesitation, “Write. And when I needed a break, read.”
So what does this have to do with rejection? Everything.
1. Rejection weeds out the writers with a weak stomach. Those who aren’t cut out for bad reviews and editors who want you to change anything from your MC’s name to eliminating a sub plot that’s not working. This is not to say I think those writers stop writing. I truly believe that, if you are a writer, you can never completely give it up or it will be like letting go of what makes you who you are. But, and this may sound harsh, not everyone is willing to do what it takes to get published, and that’s okay.
2. Rejection fans the fire in our belly. For those left standing after the first few rounds of rejection, we’re left with the determination to prove the guys who turned us down wrong. Sure, it might not be the current manuscript that lands us the agent or publishing contract, but one day, if we keep fighting, we know it’s going to happen.
3. Rejection makes us better writers, if we learn to read between the lines. I’ve heard it said that a good query letter can get a 75% request rate IF SENT TO THE APPROPRIATE AGENTS. While I think that’s a little high given the current climate of book sales, I agree that you can tell a good query letter from one that needs work, based on the response. Same goes for the first 50 paged. If you have agents asking to read your work, but they all seem to be passing, maybe those first pages/chapters need revision. After my the first ten rejections, without a request, I put a stop to the query process and spent the next year revising. Now I’m ready to query my YA paranormal, even though it’s going to be an uphill battle. (You know, because there just aren’t enough YA paranormals in the slush piles right now.) Maybe someone will like it enough to take a chance. Maybe they won’t, but through the writing, revising, and query process, I know I’ve become a better writer. (And my non-paranormal YA WIP is evidence of that.)
4. Finally, rejections induct us into the brother/sisterhood of writers. This is a blanket statement, but one that I’m willing to make without hesitation: no published author got where they are without experiencing rejection. It may be a sick commentary about me, but I actually get a little excited when I meet another writer who’s been turned down by an agent that’s also rejected me. Why? Because that person has literally been sitting in my seat. S/he knows how it feels to get the no thanks response. And because of that we can lift each other up and encourage each other to keep moving forward.
So you see, rejection can be a useful tool in the writing process. It’s not a fun part of the process, but, as I remind my children, you have a choice: you can get mad about it, pout, and waste your creative talent feeling sorry for yourself or you can have a two minute pity party, complete with black confetti, streamers and a cake pop (or two), and move on to the next move in the chess game of writing. Either way, it’s not the agent or publisher who determines what you do next. It’s you, the writer. Whatever your choice, BE PASSIONATE in your decision. I look forward to swimming with you all in slush pile hell, and for those of you who manage to get out of the big pond! Remember to share not only your stories of success, but the stories that came before.