How to be positive about rejection
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We all have to deal with rejection. Indeed it’s an essential rite of passage for authors. After all, there’s a lot of competition. Manuscripts line up at editors’ and agents’ desks like hopefuls auditioning for the X-Factor or Britain’s Got Talent. So when your manuscript thumps onto your mat with yet another ‘No’ you thicken your skin again and send it somewhere else.
The usual advice is to proudly display those letters as evidence you’re doing the legwork to start your writing career. So you’ve got 10, 20, 30? Welcome to the club.
Hang on. That number of rejections may not be unusual, but have you ever wondered if there is something you could learn from them instead of plowing on undeterred?
There are two main types of rejection –
a.. The impersonal compliments slip or duplicated letter
b.. A personalized response
The impersonal response
The impersonal response usually goes something like this – ‘we can’t say anything specific because of the large volume of submissions we receive but after careful consideration we cannot offer representation/publication’.
That one-size-fits-all reply may not seem very informative. And everyone gets a few. But if your rejection collection is mainly these and none of the other sort it does actually tell you quite a lot.
Those rejections are, I’m afraid, politely telling you the manuscript isn’t anywhere near a publishable standard. So stop sending it out. Find out what to do about it.
It’s very difficult to see this yourself, so it might help to join a writers’ group – on line or real world – or show the manuscript to a friend. Use the time you’d normally spend on writing to learn about writing techniques and examine the best way to present your story and your characters.
Don’t just think if you send your script off 50 times that one of them will hit the jackpot. Getting a publishing deal or representation is not like the lottery.
Quality makes a difference.
Rejection does sap your morale – there’s no doubt about it. Often the only way to deal with it is to desensitize yourself. But don’t let it blind you to useful criticism. Don’t be deterred, but don’t plow on undeflected.
Understanding the Personal Rejection
If you mainly get the personal response, you’ve really got something to work with. Even if the letter is only a couple of lines.
Years ago, when I was a journalist first venturing into fiction, I wrote novels and I sent them out to editors and agents across the land. I came across the file of rejections a few months ago and settled down to read them with a wry smirk.
Are they just sweeping generalizations? The remarks on these letters looked like sweeping generalizations. For instance – ‘The writing was accomplished blah blah but the strand with Admiral Blake, although fascinating, didn’t gel with the present-day narrative in Massachusetts’. Or ‘the
characterisation was weak and therefore the story not as compelling as it should
And do you know what?
With hindsight I can see most of what they said was true. Not only that, several rejections for the same novel identified the same general problems. But at the time I thought they simply hadn’t ‘got’ the book or were fobbing me off. In fact they were trying to help me.
Of course, much comes down to the editor or agent’s personal taste, but if more than one response highlights the same problem, you know you’ve got some work to do. Don’t assume your reader hasn’t understood what you were doing or that their tastes are too conventional.
What if you get several responses that highlight completely different things? Still take notice. They’re more difficult for you to interpret, but it means the novel isn’t captivating readers in some fundamental way.
Your work stood out! If you get a personal response like that, it means your work has stood out. Lines like ‘we thought long and hard about your submission’ are not usually a platitude. They should tell you it’s worth you thinking long and hard too.
You may even be lucky enough to receive a long and detailed critique. If so, embrace it because you have really made a strong impression. The more points that are mentioned, the more interested they were in the work.
You should definitely display these letters with pride. And preferably close to your computer when you’re thinking about revisions.
Open Door. Another thing you should do is keep the door open. In these days when many rejections come by email rather than letter, it’s simplicity itself to email back and thank the agent or editor for their comments and keep the contact warm. It’s certainly worth asking if they would be interested to see a revised manuscript if they haven’t offered to already.
Not right for the market . Another typical response is that a book is well executed but not right for the market. In that case you have two choices – change it, or withdraw it from circulation for a while then send it out again. Editorial tastes can change vastly in a few years. Before Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight editors wouldn’t touch vampires with a garlic-adorned barge pole.
If you don’t agree. What do you do if you don’t agree with their comments? Before you delete their email or rip up their letter, simmer down. Put it aside, then come back and look at it again after a few days.
Their remarks might make sense already – honest criticism can be painful when first received and sometimes the most hardened of us can be left reeling. Of course the reader might be trying to make a square peg fit a round hole, which is usually for commercial, rather than artistic reasons. If you suspect this, you might want to wait until you’ve had a few more comments and take a consensus.
How far should you change things? Sometimes an agent or editor will reject a book but offer to consider it again if you make radical changes, which they may even suggest. The door is open, but what is the price of admission?
Before you slam in fury, consider this. Once novels leave your desk, it is completely normal for editors and agents to think about how to change them. You may have spent years redrafting and polishing, but as far as they are concerned the book has only just begun. Every published author has long meetings with their agents and editors about redrafting and these can be frustrating and mind boggling. Even when you’re signed up, you will find yourself defending your creative decisions and fighting your corner. But you can’t see everything that’s wrong with a novel and hopefully your relationship with your agent or editor will be supportive and nurturing, rather than railroading.
If you’ve received one of these rejections, think. Uphold your artistic integrity by all means. But not because you’re offended by the suggestion that you change something. Change is a fact of publishing life. Instead, weigh up what their suggestions might mean for the novel and for the kind of brand you want to build (and yes, writers are a brand; publishing is a business). If what they want you to do is way off beam or wrong for you, explore the reasons behind their suggestions – for instance a strand of the story may be boring or too hard to understand. Think about it and make a counter-suggestion.
Persistence. The publishing world is full of tales of how our biggest literary stars just plugged away until they got their break. Persistence is vital. But persist intelligently.
Editors and agents do actually read each manuscript they’re sent – although goodness knows how as every day only contains 24 hours. Rejections are not effectively a lottery ticket that shows your numbers that didn’t come up. They tell you how you can significantly improve your odds.
Be positive about rejection – but don’t be idiotically so.
Roz is a British writer who also writes about revising novels, the writing process, the writing life. She has great wisdom and a big heart! Read her blog, Dirty White Candy.!