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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Striving for Progress

“The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

– Voltaire

This has become one of my go-to phrases over the years, though it was only in researching this article that I found out who originally said it.  Voltaire’s words apparently best translate to “the best is the enemy of the good,” but that makes me like the phrase even better because now I can appreciate how a little imperfection in the translation actually made it better.

Years before Gretchin Rubin brought this quote back in vogue in her 2009 chronicle The Happiness Project, I first heard this line from a bunch of crusty old CIA officers trying to train the new recruits. They’d fling Voltaire’s pearls before us swine with the same intensity they brought to every lesson, condemning our Type A-ness as a potentially life-threatening flaw, while, in the next breath, berating us for achieving anything less than 97 percent. (Of course, none of those guys ever attributed the quote to Voltaire, though I suspect that they kept the source to themselves out of a matter of habit rather than ignorance. That, and because admitting to knowing Voltaire would have put a chink in the battle-hardened, professor-of-the-real-world exterior they worked diligently to maintain.)

But Ms. Rubin and those cranky old men would all agree (a weird mental image, let me tell you) that perfection is illusory. It’s the destination you’ll never arrive at – the mirage on the horizon. It’s one more hill to climb; one of your own making! Chasing it is a waste of time and, possibly, a surfeit of hubris. Keep that in mind the next time you’re panting to get through one more round of revisions or the ‘perfect’ birthday craft project.

But if we’re not striving for perfection, what are we striving for? Personally, I’m on board with the wisdom of my son’s super-inspiring pre-K teachers who say “practice makes progress,” rather than the much more restrictive and anxiety-producing adage I grew up with.

Here’s the catch, and you Type A’s out there will have already identified this: if we’re exchanging perfection for progress as our goal, how do we know when we’ve hit the mark? How do we know when we’ve lived up to our full potential as writers, or *gulp!* parents? If we don’t have perfection as our destination, how can we tell if we’ve done enough?

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