Surviving Rejection

Surviving Rejection

There are lots of blogs and articles on rejection in the writing world. Mostly because there’s a lot of rejection in the writing world. Today, I’m just adding my two cents to the popular topic. Well, maybe popular isn’t the right word…more like infamous topic. No matter the adjective, rejection is an unavoidable part of selling your writing.

When I worked for a certain humor department at a greeting card company, we had to turn in eight funny cards a day. (It was during a rather tyrannical rule.) Can you guess how many cards I had accepted in a day? Meaning, how many of my eight cards would be selected to go into the database for possible production? If it was a really good day, I’d get two cards accepted. That’s 40 cards a week with a 75% rejection rate – if it’s a good week. And that number held true for the majority of the staff. Based on that experience and my experience with rejection in the publishing world, I have a few helpful points to get you through any intense barrages of rejection. Alcohol is optional.

  1. Keep a Business Perspective
  2. Keep Your Eyes on Your New Work
  3. Keep Your Writing Buddies Close…and Keep Going!

Keep a Business Perspective

Seeing the business side of greeting cards helped prepare me for the rejection gauntlet of publishing. If you haven’t had experience with the business side of creative writing, here are a few things to consider…

There a million reasons you can get a rejection from an agent that don’t have anything to do with the quality of your piece: They already represent something similar. They didn’t connect with the voice. They like it, but not enough to represent it. The list goes on.

Why is it such a subjective industry? Why do they have to like it so much to represent it?!

Agents are going to be investing a lot of time and thought into helping you polish your work and into submitting to publishing houses. It’s a big commitment and they’re looking for something they’re really passionate about. Something they believe in their heart they can sell…because, you know, that’s how they make money. They don’t get paid until you get paid.

Of course there are reasons your manuscript could be rejected that have to do with the craft. Maybe you need to work on the plot structure, or your characters, or the all-important opening pages. If you get that feedback with your rejection – instead of just a form rejection – that’s a gift! An agent took their time to give you a more personalized rejection and now you have something to consider before you send out more queries. It’s a step-up from just any old form rejection! Yay! (See? Rejection can be exciting!)

And if you do land that agent, you need to remember that publishing houses are not your Aunt Molly. They aren’t going to publish you because they love you and think you’re smarter than the other kids. They publish your work because they believe you’ve provided them with a product they can sell…and make money on.

If you’re going to try to publish, get comfy with the idea that you are offering a product for someone to sell. It’s no longer your little manuscript-baby. It costs boatloads of money to publish a book. It would be a bad business decision to publish something that isn’t going to make money (no matter how many copies Aunt Molly promises to buy).

Twitter decided I needed to see this thread today and emailed it to me. It’s a little encouragement from an agent on rejection. (They’re watching me.)

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Eeking out time to write

Photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash

It’s mid-November and the scent of NaNo is in the air. No matter the chill northerly breeze pulling the last leaves from skeletal trees, I keep getting whiffs of that funky mixture of exertion, stress, and self-doubt that fogs high school locker rooms at half time.  And the scent of hope – of potential victory – tingles at the edge of our senses.

But you’re against the clock! The minutes seem to fly by in the blurred manner of hundreths of seconds. You’re frozen by the escape of time, watching the flock of numbers wing south, while you gape at the white expanse before you.

No fear! You’re already deep in and the only way to truly overcome this challenge is to slay it. YOU CAN DO IT! Even if it feels like time itself is arranged against you, here are some bona fide cheats that can help you bring your manuscript (whether it’s a NaNo enterprise or other) home before the clock runs out.  And because the holiday season is practically upon us (another period when writing time runs thin as deadlines draw near), think of these tips as gifts you can give to yourself.

1. Give yourself five minutes. If the average writer can hack out 50 words per minute, then five minutes will give you 250 words. Now, clearly 250 words per day isn’t going to get you to 50,000 words in a month. But if you can give yourself 5 minutes to write, 5 times per day, that’ll get you to 37,500 words by the 30 day mark, which is getting pretty close. So even on the days when you feel like there is JUST NO TIME to write (or do much of anything else besides survive), challenge yourself like this: get up five minutes earlier and use that time to write. Stay up five minutes later, in order to write. See if you can squeeze five minutes of writing into each meal, and voila – you’re on your way. (Don’t believe me – check out Jeff Somers’ great article “The 9-Minute Novelist” in Writer’s Digest. The numbers don’t lie.)

2. Give yourself a break. It’s true that you can’t do everything – at least, not until you get your hands on Hermione’s time turner. You’ve got to focus on the thing you want to win. Every coach and every player – every fan even – knows that you’ve got to have your head in the game if you’re going to stand a chance. The player thinking about that school assignment, or the crush of their dreams, or whether they’ve got the ingredients to make mac n cheese from scratch, because even though it’s yummier, the mac n cheese from the box is probably loaded with chemicals – THAT PLAYER – is going to miss the chance to shine. So order take-out for the family (bonus if you can get someone else to pick it up), let the dust bunnies frolic for another week, and focus on what counts (your words!).

3. Give yourself permission to say ‘yes.’ We all know that kids aren’t supposed to have unlimited screen time anymore (even though Scooby-Doo and Johnny Quest were my after school nannies and I think I turned out fine…more or less). But that doesn’t mean that if you let them binge on a little extra TV or game time in the next two weeks that their brains are going to be forever damaged. In fact, isn’t this why you regulate their electronic consumption the rest of the time: so that you’ll have the spare hours to toss at them when you need it? Well, your need is now. Spend that credit.

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Early Intervention Pays Off

We just finished up our parent teacher conferences. I survived and it turns out my children weren’t lying about behaving themselves at school. Win! As I left one of the conferences, I thought about how differently that particular conference could have gone if we hadn’t received some early intervention for my son’s issues. I thought about how hard it is to know what’s “normal” or typical and how intimidating it can be to seek help for your kid. So, I felt inclined to babble about the importance and value of early intervention for kiddos and give a few – hopefully helpful – tips. So here goes!

Five years ago I would have had dire, somewhat hilarious, predictions for my son’s school experience, focusing mostly on military school. Things didn’t look good. At one year old, he was already very physically aggressive and angry. A lot. No matter the emotion, it was an intense emotion. Once angry, he wasn’t able to calm himself. He had this crazy-high tolerance for pain. He broke his leg and walked on it for two days. We thought at first his shoes were too tight because he was just limping a little. We still aren’t positive when the break happened because he never cried. He was extreme, stubborn, and exhausting.

I wanted to seek help for him, but I didn’t know where to start or what exactly was going on with him. I had people telling me “He’s just a boy.” or “He’s just trying to assert himself because he’s the youngest.”  or “You should be more (fill in the blank).” I also got my share of nasty looks and unsolicited opinions on child-rearing as I carried a screaming, squirming, hitting child out of the grocery store, leaving half a cart of groceries behind me. And they didn’t even see the worst of it.

So which was it? Was he just a boy or was I failing at parenting him? (Those appeared to be the only two options based on unsolicited feedback.  I didn’t buy that this was just “boy” behavior. I had other boys who were not whirling tornados of anger. So was I parenting wrong? This one was tricky. Moms all know how sensitive we can be to other people’s opinions on our child rearing. When you’re at a loss on what to do, it’s easy to start believing the worst of yourself. But, eventually, I decided that the people blaming his behavior on my parenting incompetence were idiots. Nosy, non-helpful, critical, opinionated idiots. That helped. Honestly. It allowed me to let the idiots think what they want while I got to work on helping my kid. If someone is not encouraging or empathetic when they offer parenting “advice,” give yourself permission to deem them an idiot and ignore them.

Here are a few tips from my time navigating early intervention. I hope they’re helpful. Your child’s issue may be different, but I think the tips can still apply.

  1. Gather Information
  2. Ignore Idiots
  3. Speak with Professionals
  4. Be Persistent
  5. Find Support
  6. Invest the Time
  7. Advocate, Advocate, Advocate

I read every parenting book I could find. I read the theories and the step-by-step guides. I googled and asked around in mom-circles. I picked up a copy of The Out of Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz. I can’t remember where I heard about this book, but it was the start of me learning about Sensory Processing Disorder. Piece by piece, we were putting the puzzle together. I documented my son’s behaviors and looked for patterns. (Gather Information) I knew we needed to get evaluated by an Occupational Therapist (Speak with Professionals), but getting that evaluation turned out to be more difficult than I expected. I needed a doctor’s referral. I met with one of the pediatricians in our doctor’s practice with a list of concerns and all my documentation. He dismissed me. Flat-out dismissed me. This, obviously, was disheartening. I had asked for resources, but he treated me as if I were looking for a label or diagnosis. I’m sure they see a bit of that, but I wasn’t interested in labeling my kid at age 4. I was interested in helping him. So I left the practice we had been at for eleven years and sought out a new doctor. (Be Persistent and Ignore Idiots)

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Building Your Writing Community

(Meme credit to Kristen Hogrefe)


You’ve been hard at your keyboard, and have a work in progress burning a hole in your soul. You know that you need feedback on it – at least that’s what the professionals all recommend, but where to get it? If you’re on social media already, you know the virtual opportunities are endless. Editors for hire. Online critique groups. Competitions that foster writing communities and hashtags that form the basis of communities. But sending your book into the ether can also feel overwhelming and/or impersonal. And there is no substitute for sitting down with someone who’s read your words to hear and see what they have to say about your creation. But finding that in-the-flesh feedback group can be hard! There’s the scheduling to begin with – a major hurdle for sure, but one that we’ve all got to contend for any allocation of our time. Some of the other things to consider are geography, genre, experience level, and let’s be honest, emotional fit. We’ll take a closer look at each of these below, and at the end, I’ve got a few suggestions for where you can find the materials to build your writing community, as well as a few suggestions for good writing community etiquette.

Geography. If you live in a major metropolitan area, this may not be as much of a challenge. I’m close enough to NYC to be aware of some of the writerly activities that go on there – and it’s enough to make my head spin! Writing groups abound, as do workshops, courses, book readings, editor panels, conferences, etc. If you live in an urban environment, you may have several groups to choose from (more on that below). For those of us who live more rural existences, you may have to cast a wider net to build a community. You can either open yourself up to traveling longer distances to get to more selective groups (keeping in mind how that commute may impact your ability to attend regularly) or you can seek to build a more diverse group closer to home. Personally, I do both. Once a month, I drive 60-90 min each way to meet with a group of children’s books writers. It’s worth it to me to go the extra distance (literally) to connect with a great group who are all writing toward the same audience. I’ve also been working to establish a group close enough that my commute does not equal or exceed the quantity of time spent connecting with the other writers– definitely a personal preference. This local group includes poets, novelists, bloggers, memoirists, and picture book creators, bringing together a range of interests and experiences that I’ve already been fascinated to see helping each other.

Genre. If you’re writing a romance novel, it seems common sense that you’d want to connect with a group of other romance writers. There’s a lot to commend this approach: you can share information on trends and tropes, agents and publishers looking for submissions, and key each other into contests or award opportunities. Having been a regular member of a children’s literature writer’s group has really been an education for me about what is going on in this specific sub-field of writing, and I’m extremely thankful to the other group members for all they are willing to share.

Depending on the availability of resources in your area, you may have to weigh commute times against specificity. It can also be helpful to get feedback from those who aren’t mired in the daily dramas of the field. Sometimes the feedback you get from those individuals can feel more authentic – like you’re getting it from real readers. Consider too whether you are planning to write exclusively within a genre for your entire writing career. Not planning on solely writing Middle Grade Space Operas? Then it’s at least worth stopping to consider how widely you want to cast your writing group net, since hopefully these writers will be with you for success after success.

Experience. This is probably the most loaded topic – should your group include writers of all experience levels? I say ‘yes,’ and not just because I’m still at the far left on the experience bell curve. I have always believed in mentorship and the benefits it can bring to both parties. Having people of varying levels of experience in your writing group brings the benefits of experience and (perhaps) connections together with a fresh eye and (perhaps) less jaded approach.

Emotional Fit. This was the aspect that I didn’t anticipate being so crucial but which has had a considerable impact on my inclination to continue with various groups – and which has made me consider carefully who I think will gel with others in my own efforts to gather a group. It ties into etiquette for sure, but also into motivations for joining a writing community. Some people want a group to validate their value as authors, and are not interested in being critiqued or in critiquing others. Some people feel their value is in providing extensive levels of feedback, and almost seem to relish tearing a draft apart. Both are fine, as long as everyone else in the group is fine with those approaches. However, mix those two together and you’re going to have a fairly unpleasant encounter sooner or later. It’s worth considering, and discussing openly, how the other members approach participation and criticism.

When you enter into a writing group, you are exposing yourself in a very real way. You’re taking draft work that you know isn’t it’s finest yet (though you are probably secretly in love with large sections of your own genius, as you should be) and putting it before other people, whom you may or may not know well, awaiting their judgment. Yikes! It makes my heart race a little just thinking about it.

Some trick(s) to making it all work? Kindness. Professionalism. Clear communication. Commitment.

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