Saturday, February 28, 2009

What I learned from over 100 Rejections

When it comes to publishing a romance, I know a thing or two about rejection. In fact, in my ten years of pursuing publication, I’ve received every kind of rejection known to the writing community—the good kind, the bad kind, the almost-there kind, the “Dear, Loser” kind and the “Dear, Author You Don’t Rate a Salutation” kind.

I received these wonderful letters not only before I sold my first book, but after as well. You see, I sold my first manuscript in 2001. Unfortunately, EXTREME MEASURES, a 2002 Leisure Books release, was my first and last book with that particular publisher. For five years after that initial success, I couldn’t buy attention for any of my manuscripts, and there were many! No editor was interested. No agent wanted to represent me. Bottom line, I had sold a book only to fizzle out as a one-book-wonder.

I knew it was time to rethink my career path. The rejection letters were pouring in and I couldn’t seem to stop the onslaught. I realized I had to stop chasing the all-elusive second sale and decide what I wanted to write and why I wanted to write it.

Long story short, I decided to reconcile my faith with my writing. I focused on my God, my family and my craft as a writer (in that order). As I type this I am finishing my fifth contracted manuscript for the Steeple Hill Love Inspired Historical line. I can safely say the dry spell is over. At least for now, but I know my success could vanish at anytime. There isn’t a single day that I take my return to publishing for granted. I know how quickly it can fade.

So, what did I learn from all the rejection letters? I learned to focus on what I could control and leave the rest to the Lord. I started taking positive action steps that I could control. Here are my top ten steps for “staying the course” in the face of rejection.

STEP ONE: Persist. Sounds simple, I know. But the only way to guarantee success is to keep writing. The only way to guarantee failure is to stop writing. Never, never give up. That sale could be just around the corner. It may take seven, ten, twenty years and 100 or more rejections, but so what? It’s all about the journey anyway. Trust me on this.

STEP TWO: Focus on what you’re doing right, not what you’re doing wrong. Do not go to the negative. Ever. Stay positive. Write down every success you have, no matter how small. Did you read a good craft book? You’re one step closer. Did you attend a book signing? Again, you’re on your way. Did you meet a multi-published author who gave you great advice? There you go! Remember, every step counts.

STEP THREE: Redefine those rejections. Try thinking of those nasty little letters as correspondence with editors. You just received important feedback from an industry professional, and all it cost you was the postage. Besides, that rejection is just one person’s opinion. Nothing more, nothing less. You have not been rejected. That particular editor did not like that particular story at that particular time. Never say, “I was rejected.” You weren’t. Your manuscript was rejected. Reframe your thinking right now!

STEP FOUR: Compare yourself only to yourself. If you try to keep up with your friends and/or your rivals you will only make yourself crazy. Let’s face it; there will always be someone more successful than you in this business. Their success is not an indicator of your potential. Focus on your career and your success. Period.

STEP FIVE: Read and learn from other genres. This is hard for many writers. But if you only study your sub-genre, you risk becoming a one-note writer. Not good. Want to learn how to write great action scenes? Study thrillers. Want to learn how to plot better? Read a good mystery. Want to know how to use language well? Read a literary novel. You can learn a lot about craft by studying other published novels. Like I said before, don’t stick to one genre. Your writing will benefit.

STEP SIX: Turn off the internal editor. Make this your new motto: DON’T GET IT right GET IT written. You can always go back and revise, but you can’t fix a blank page.

STEP SEVEN: Live your life. Turn off that television and get out of the house. I know this seems like a basic step, but it’s so important. How can you write about people if you aren’t interacting with, well, people? Study mannerisms, study speech patterns, study how strangers interact with one another. Airports are a great place for this. You’ll be surprised what you can learn by mingling with the real world.

STEP EIGHT: SUBMIT, SUBMIT, SUBMIT. You can’t get feedback if you aren’t submitting. You can’t make a sale if you aren’t submitting. Need I say more?

STEP NINE: Hone your craft! My personal favorite and the one step we writers can completely control on our own. Successful authors share one common trait: they never adopt the attitude that “they have arrived”. Each book is an open challenge to take their writing to the next level. They are constantly learning new techniques. Are you? Make a commitment to find out where your writing is out of balance (and, yes, everyone’s writing has areas that need honing). Commit to improving the weakest part of your writing.

STEP TEN: Finish manuscripts. You can’t sell a blank page. You can’t hone your craft by merely attending a workshop. You must practice, practice, practice. When that editor comes knocking don’t you want more than one manuscript available for sale?

There you have it. Ten steps you can control, whether you’re a published author or an aspiring one or suffering somewhere in between.



Renee Ryan writes for the Steeple Hill line Love Inspired Historical. Her fabulous editor is Melissa Endlich of Steeple Hill. Her first book in the Charity House series, The Marshall Takes a Bride is a current February 2009 release. Her next book in the Charity House series, Hannah’s Beau hits the shelves July 2009. For further information check out:


Renee Ryan said...

Good morning, all. I hope everyone has a happy weekend planned. I'll be cleaning house -- the reward for meeting a deadline. =)~

I'll be taking breaks and checking in a lot. Any questions? Any thoughts on your favorite (or least favorite) step I mentioned?


Karen said...

Hi Renee,
Welcome to the Chicks. Thank you for the inspiring post and heart felt advice. It seems rejection is part of the journey. I haven't submitted anything yet but when I do I'm going to adopt your attitude towards it.

I popped over to your sight and read the excerpt for the Marshall Takes a Bride and I really liked it. I'll have to make a book run.

Have a great day. I'm off to commune with other writers.

Victoria Bylin said...

Hi Renee, You have such an inspiring story. I remember that first RT contest and seeing your entry. Isn't it amazing to look back and see what God has done?

BTW, I thoroughly enjoyed THE MARSHALL TAKES A BRIDE. The scene in the supply closet made me smile : )

P.S. Sorry if this is a duplicate post. Blogger hiccupped : )

Renee Ryan said...

Hi Karen,

Thanks for the welcome. And, yes, rejection is part of the journey. Of course, there are always exceptions! Maybe you'll be one of them. ;-)

Hi Vicki! Yes, it is amazing to look back and see God's hand throughout the journey. Thanks for your kind words about TMTB. I really enjoyed writing the closet scene. Tee hee...

P.S. I've started MAVERICK PREACHER and wow, what a GREAT read. You've really captured two very emotional characters. Joshua is especially yummy! What a great hero.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Renee, sorry for deserting you today. We've just arrived in Saskatoon and am at the Sask Rom Writer's mtg.

The Marshal Takes a Bride came in my eharl shipment yesterday and I have it here with me. It looks fantastic and I can't wait to read it.

Vicki - it's so nice of you to visit. Your book came yesterday, too. Oh no! Which one do I read first? Yikes!!!

I'll be showing both your books to the mbrs as inspiration.

Gotto go... the mtg is starting...

nm8r67 said...


i like your list on how to take care of things within our control. i hadn't considered how freeing that could be. Lord knows I tend to worry about things beyond my control.

thanks for sharing with us.


Renee Ryan said...

Anita Mae,

Hope your meeting went well. What did you learn? Any kernals you can share?

Hi DebH,

Yeah, I really have to remind myself what I can (very little) or cannot (A LOT) control in this world. That's why I keep my list close at hand most days. ;-)

Suse said...

Hi Renee, welcome to Prairie Chicks. I'm a list maker so I really like how you've set out your ten steps for staying the course.

I especially like that you've said we need to focus on the things we can control. We have to remember that we can't control what others do, only how we react to others or to the circumstances we find ourselves in.

I wish you continued success.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hi Renee, our mtg just ended and the big topic today was about prologues. The concensus was you needed something really special to make it work and not to try it as a debut author.

Speaking of rejections, I rec'd one by email yesterday from a partial that sat for over a year but it was a good rejection because she said she wanted to see something else. :)

I'll check in with you in about 4 hrs when I get home.

Renee Ryan said...


You are so right. Our reaction to circumstances is really important. Don't get me wrong, rejections STINK! I've never received one and said, "YAY!" But I can say I've learned something from every rejection I've received. Even the one addressed: Dear Rose Marie. Uh, WHO???? I learned that particular was not an agent I wanted -- she couldn't even get the simple detail of my name correct. LOL

Anita Mae,

Prologues are very tricky, but often necessary. Yes, they must have a reason and I usually find the most powerful ones are centered around an important event prior to the opening of the book that would be total backstory dump if handled any other way. I HATE backstory dump. Talk about killing the action. ;-)


Janet C. said...

Hello Renee and welcome to The Prairies. I'm just back from our meeting and had to comment on your list. Great list. As a person of multiple rejections (PMR), I love your list. And with every new rejection I prepare a new batch of letters to go out. My goal - 100 submissions, which could equal 100 rejections.

Thanks for taking the time to share your journey - I'm going to print out your list and post it on my bulletin board - right next to the collection of rejections. It will inspire me when I start wondering if I really want to continue.


Renee Ryan said...


I love your attitude. You are definitely on the road to success. Submit, submit, submit! It's the popcorn theory. You can't make popcorn one kernal at a time. ;-)

GOOD LUCK on your journey. And may you have success long before you hit 100!


Anita Mae Draper said...

Okay, I arrived home about 30 mins ago. It was so cold out there. We stopped for gas and to eat supper half way home but when I searched the van for my hat and mitts, they were missing! When I told the kids to clean out the van I should've been more specific!I had my warm barn coat with me but only unlined work gloves. I stopped pumping the gas before the tank was full because my fingers were frozen. But Karen is safe at home and now me too.

Renee Ryan said...

Anita Mae,

Sorry about the cold. Clothes, hats and scarves make all the difference. Glad to hear you made it home safely. I forgot to mention a big WOOHOOOO for your "good" rejection. If an editor requests to see more of your work that means he/she saw your potential. So many times, making that sale has to do with getting the right project in front of the editor at the right time.

Keep plugging. You're obviously on the right track!


Anita Mae Draper said...

Thanks, Renee for your comment on my 'R'.

You're just apoligizing for the cold because you live where it's warm. LOL

I quizzed the kids this morning about my hat and mitts and my teen said she figured I'd think she didn't do a thorough job of cleaning unless she took everything out of the van. *sigh*

Renee, I want to thank you so much for blogging with us yesterday. I wished I could've been more available even while comforted by the fact you were here taking care of everything for us.

I'm so thankful your list will be accessible here to me and anyone else who needs a reminder during the rough times.

I wish you blessings and continued success with your writing. Please let me know if you ever want to blog with us another time.

Renee Ryan said...

Anita Mae,

Thanks so much for having me here. It was a lot of FUN! I'm not a "great" blogger, but I'm up for it anytime. ;-)


Lisa Yarde said...

Thanks for that inspirational post. It's hard at times not to take rejection personally but it's good to know that writers across the board share many of the same experiences and support each other.