Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Riding the Writing Roller Coaster #7: Rejection

Hey all! If you're going to be at RWA National in San Antonio next week, look me up.  I'll be at the Wednesday night literacy signing as well as Friday's Harlequin booksigning.  Looking forward to meeting you.

Once upon a time, there was a boy named Tattoo. Tattoo wanted to become an
officer in the US Army.  He joined ROTC and took his mandatory physical. A few weeks later, his physical came back with the words REJECTED stamped across it. Tattoo was turned down because he had childhood asthma.
Undeterred, Tattoo contacted his commander’s office. He believed he had enough medical evidence to prove he’d outgrown his asthma and thus deserved a waiver.
The commander’s office told him they didn’t apply for medical waivers.

At this point, a lot of young men would give up, find another career. Tattoo, however,.requested a face-to-face meeting with the Commanding Officer during which he laid out his case. The CO agreed to  let him apply for a waiver with the understanding he could still be rejected.

Tattoo received his medical waiver five weeks later.

The point of this little fable is obvious. Rejection happens to all of us.  Doesn’t matter how many manuscripts you've written.  At some point, you will have a story get rejected.  Maybe more than one.  To say rejection sucks would be an understatement. Even those so-called good rejections – the ones where the bad news comes with compliments and feedback  - still feel like someone reached inside and tore your stomach in two. No one wants to hear their efforts are inadequate.  Why not add fuel to the fire and tell us our babies are ugly and stupid too?

Oh, and those people who say “they aren’t rejecting you, just your work”?  Yeah, well, maybe so, but intellectually knowing it’s our work and emotionally knowing it are two different things.  Besides, like I said before, we put our hearts and souls into a manuscript.  So while they aren’t rejecting you personally, in a way they are.  Or so it feels. 

Unfortunately, as painful as rejection is, it is also inevitable.  If you’re one of those rare writers who have yet to be rejected, just wait.  To paraphrase words once told to me by a very wise writer: Everyone suffers a low point in their career. Might be at the beginning, might be in the middle, or at the end, but they will suffer. To beat my roller coaster analogy deeper in the ground, it’s like the downward plunge following your first climb.  The car can’t keep going up.  Eventually the ascent has to reverse.  

Or, more bluntly, what comes up must eventually come down.  The only sure way to avoid rejection is to quit submitting.  I don’t say that flippantly.  If you truly can’t cope with rejection, then redefine what it is you want from writing.  Maybe self-publishing is a better alternative.  Or perhaps you decide to write solely for your own enjoyment. 

But assuming you want to sell your work, then what can you do to better cope with rejection?

First accept that rejection is unavoidable.  No matter what stage of your career, rejection will and can happen.  Maybe not in the same form – a published author probably isn’t going to get a form letter rejection so much as a “sorry this proposal doesn’t work for us, try again” note – but it will happen nonetheless. 

Second, you have to remember that you aren’t the only writers getting rejection letters.  Difficult, I know. In an industry such as ours where good news is shouted from the roof tops and bad news buried under layers of silence, it’s easy to feel like everyone in the world is doing better than you are.  Always, always, always remember that just because your chapter email loop is filled with announcements about editor/agent requests, contest placements, etc., doesn’t mean the bad stuff isn’t happening too.

Think about it for a moment: how many of those “so-and-so loved my proposal and requested my full” announcements are followed up with a “I sold!” announcement”?   People always share the good news; they seldom share the bad.

Don’t Think Rejection; Think Resiliency

The key to surviving rejections doesn't lie in pretending rejection doesn't hurt, or that you don't feel personally rejected.  Rather, it lies in your ability to bounce back.  You must be resilient to survive in this industry.  You must be able to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and submit again.

The good news is you are all resilient.  How do I know?  How many of you have received a rejection?  How about two?  Three?  Five?  A dozen?  How many of you have failed to final in a contest?

And how many of you have resubmitted or reentered again?  Every. Single. One. Of. You.

Ta da!  You’re resilient!  You are very capable of bouncing back, and bouncing back quite nicely.

“But,” I can hear you saying, “every time I get rejected, I’m plunged into a deep funk.  I get writers’ block and it takes me weeks to dig myself out.”

Maybe it does.  Maybe instead of beating yourself up for being rejected, you need to allow yourself to feel crappy?  We are so doggone set on bouncing back quickly.  .  Okay, true, you shouldn't be pouting to the extent you miss weeks of writing time.  But dammit, give yourself time to lick your wounds.  Rejection sucks.  Go ahead, scream, pout, decide it’s not fair, decide the editors’ don’t know anything about good writing if it whacked them over their collective heads.

Then take a deep breath, and get back on the horse.  You are resilient.  You can survive rejection.

Next time you get a rejection letter, go ahead - scream, cry, stamp your feet.  Drink a bottle of wine.  Eat too much chocolate.  You've earned that much.  Then, sit down and write out all the good things you have ever accomplished in your life.  Weigh that list against your rejection letter.   Remind yourself, that you were to die tomorrow (God forbid) and remain unpublished, that your life would still have mattered a great deal.  That the success or failure of one novel does not define your life.  Then tighten your seat-belt, decide you’re not done the ride, and head up the next incline. 

It worked for me.  It worked for Tattoo.  It'll work for you too.

Throughout her career, Barbara Wallace has been rejected more times than she can count.  She's also had a few successes.  Her latest is the top selling HQ Rom, SWEPT AWAY BY THE TYCOON.  You can keep up with future releases by signing up for her newsletter at 

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