Monday, January 26, 2009

Dealing with Rejection

I received a rejection the other day. The acquisition editor was extremely polite, apologizing for taking so long to get back to me with her decision. She said it had been a tough choice for her, but in the end she decided that my novella was not right for her publisher.

Although the editor replied within the time frame she had earlier promised, I began to suspect that the answer was no when I didn’t hear from her right away. But seeing the “no” in black and white made it painfully real.

I’ve had my share of rejections. In fact I could probably paper a room with them. Some were mere form letters (“Thank you for submitting but your project isn’t quite right for us at this time”) and some were “good” rejection letters, in which an editor gave encouragement and perhaps even offered suggestions for improvement. But none offered me the thing I wanted most: a chance to hold my published novel in my hand.

A few years ago, my usual reaction to rejection would be to wallow in self-pity for several days. After a sufficient period of mourning and telling myself I’d never be published, I’d dust myself off and start writing again. The depth of my angst was usually in direct proportion to how much hope I’d placed on a particular project. The more hope I had, the harder the fall. A couple of times I came close to letting rejection stop me from writing and submitting again.

Finally I came to the conclusion, probably out of self-preservation, that I should expect a rejection every time I submitted something. That way I wouldn’t get my hopes up too high and it would be less painful when I was ultimately rejected. The first time I employed this tactic, my current editor emailed me to offer an ebook contract. It came as a pleasant surprise. It’s a backwards kind of coping mechanism, but hey, it works for me.

I’m not alone in being rejected. Some of the best, most commercially successful writers out there have been rejected numerous times. With a short list lifted from here are some famous rejects. The number of times the book was rejected appears in parenthesis:

Auntie Mame, Patrick Dennis (15)
Carrie, Stephen King (30)
Chicken Soup for the Soul, Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (140)
Diary of Anne Frank (16)
Dr. Seuss books (15)
Dubliners, James Joyce (22)
Dune, Frank Herbert (23)
Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell (38)
Harry Potter book one, J. K. Rowling (9)
Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach (18)
Kon-Tiki, Thor Heyerdahl (20)
M*A*S*H, Richard Hooker (17)
The Peter Principle, Laurence Peter (16)
The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot (17)
Watership Down, Richard Adams (26)
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle, (26)

For more inspiring looks at rejection, check out the following links:
Debbie Ridpath Ohi on RejectionRejection is a Drag (Pen on Fire)

From the posts I’ve written so far you’ve probably (rightly) surmised that I am not a tower of confidence. But despite all my angst I’ve found the inner strength to keep on writing and submitting. I’ve learned that the best way to deal with rejection is to just keep writing. Writing my next novel, or even writing this blog helps me work through the disappointment. While painful, I have to remember that editors and agents are not rejecting me personally. It’s just business for them. All I can do is write the best novel I can.

With this latest rejection came an unexpected offer – if I make some suggested changes she will look at it again. She also offered to look at anything else I had. So if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.

How do you deal with rejection? Do you burn your rejection letters in a bonfire, stick pins in a doll resembling an editor, or write a gracious note thanking the agent for her consideration? What was the worst rejection experience you ever had? What was the best?


Karen said...

Hi Jana, what a great post. I have no rejection stories because I'm still working up the nerve to have someone read and critique my work. When its my time to deal with rejection I will think of you and I will take a page from your book and just keep writing.


Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Jana, thank you for sharing. Its a great post.

So far I've rec'd 2 rejection letters. My best was the 2nd which was similar to yours. She said she'd look at anything else I have although the one I'd subbed wouldn't work for them.

So that leaves my first R as my worst: It as a form letter with not even a hint of why it was R'd but I've heard from efriends in the know the reason was b/c it didn't include a partial. But the part that really hurt was that it was an inspirational romance. Take those 2 words at their basic level - to inspire someone and love - and the editor R'd this query on my 30th anniversary.

I actually have anther submission out there. They've had it over a year and like you, I had the feeling the answer was no. So, at the ACFW conf in Sep, I met with the editor and told her it sounded like they didn't want it and I wanted to sub it somewhere else. Her quick response that the series it was meant for would be decided soon led me to leave it with them. I'm still waiting for the answer...

Suse said...

Hey Jana,

I was sorry to hear that you received a rejection, but it sounds like there is still hope for that particular novella, as well as future projects. Good luck with that!

I don't think you're the only one with confidence issues. I imagine all writers have gone through this at one time or another; I'm still one of those. In fact, I find all kinds of reasons why an editor hasn't responded to my query in a timely manner. Maybe I sent the query too close to Christmas and my letter got lost in the shuffle, or maybe the editor is on vacation. Or maybe I spelled the editor's name incorrectly or just called her by the wrong name, even though I try real hard to get everything right. But I CAN"T believe these editors are rejecting my writing. I've studied the market - I'm sure I've got it right.

But then again, maybe I'm just in denial. Maybe my writing isn't good enough.

I guess, because I love words so much, I will continue to write. Plus those little successes along the way, keep me going despite the rejections.

What do I do with my rejection letters? I don't think I've kept them, so being the environmentally focused person that I am, I probably recycled them (shredded first, of course).

Jana Richards said...

Hi Karen,
I does take a lot of nerve to not only submit to an editor or agent, but even to have your work critiqued by friends. I remember the first time I had people at SRW critique my work. I don't think I've ever been so nervous. But I needn't have been. Although I got a few deserved critisms, overall the group told me they liked the work. They gave me lots of suggestions for improvement which helped me immensely. And I have to say that after that, for the first time, I felt like a 'real' writer.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
Ouch! Nothing like getting rejected on a special day in your life. Thanks a bunch.

Have you emailed the editor to whom you currently have your manuscript with to ask about its status? It seems to me that after a year a polite inquiry would not be out of line. You should have the opportunity to submit your manuscript elsewhere if you choose.

It is nice to be told they would like to see something else from you. It says they see something promising in your writing. Beats the heck out of being told never to submit again! So, hang in there and good luck.


Jana Richards said...

Hey Suse,
Well, it's certainly not the first rejection I've received and it likely won't be the last. But thanks for the sympathy.

I refuse to hear you say you don't think you're writing's not good enough, even if you're saying it in jest. Believe in yourself kiddo. You have had successes along the way. Not only that, I think you have a real knack for story premises with real conflict and emotion. I think "A Long Way from Eden" is a perfect example.


Janet said...

The very first rejection - hurt big time. It was a form letter - through e-mail - less than 24 hours after I had submitted my first query letter. Ouch. But, I had done enough reading and enough research to know that that was likely to happen. It still hurt, but I sent out more.

Now, I'd be lying if I said it didn't hurt anymore. But, I've become more separated from personal rejection. This is a business - and rejection is part of the business.

Knowing the story, Jana, I hope you do re-work it and send it back to her. It's good and others would love it. And when an editor says to resend - well, that's worth celebrating. If we look for the small celebrations along the way, we'll stay positive and enthusiastic. At least that's what I tell myself.

Good luck with the story!


Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
Yeah, I can't say rejection doesn't hurt anymore either. But it's not as lethal as it used to be. Perhaps we're growing a bit of a thicker skin. I really do think it's like falling off a horse; you've got to get right back up and ride so you don't lose your nerve.

Thanks for your kind words about my story. I'm working on it and hopefully the editor will like it better the second time around.


Hayley E. Lavik said...

Hi Jana, attempting to keep from sounding like a newbie, I'm at the point where I look forward to the prospect of rejection. I know it will be hard, demoralizing, frustrating (the list could go on), but it will mean I've completed the book, and finally reached the point where I can pursue that lofty peak known as publication.

It's naive, and very obviously the voice of the inexperienced, I know, and I savour the creation process while I'm in it, but I do look forward to querying and the rejections that follow. It will mean I'm not just writing in my spare time, but actually diving into my profession at long last :)

Suse said...

Hey Jana,

Thanks for your kind words and support.

Yeah, I really liked the idea of "A Long Way From Eden." You did an excellent job writing it. I hope it is selling well!

I hope to read your novella some time too.

Hayley, if you're back checking this, I just want to say I like your approach to writing and rejection. Good luck!