Rejection sucks. There’s no way to sugar-coat it. In any area of life, rejection – in one form or another – is crushing. It hurts. It chips away at our self-esteem, it kicks the metaphorical spleen of our pride, and it shreds the lingering vestiges of our hope. It’s just plain uncool.
But you know what?
Rejection is also one of the best things we can ever experience.
Without feeling the sting of rejection, we would never have the opportunity to become more than what we are. We’d never need to make the tough choices in life, the decisions addressing what matters most and what price we’re willing to pay to see our dreams come to pass. We would never get to ask ourselves, “What am I truly passionate about?”
We would also never have a reason to then ask, “Are my dreams worth my blood, sweat and tears?”
And if it turns out that our response is ‘no’, or if after a handful of rejections we’re ready to give up, then perhaps there’s a different kind of question we need to be asking ourselves. (But that’s a conversation for a different day; this post is about rejection, not identity crisis…).
The way I see it, we can look at rejection in two different ways: as a positive, or as a negative. (Brilliant, right? I’m a regular genius). My opinion is that it’s both positive and negative. The negative is obvious – you’ve been rejected. Ouch. That means no-go, full-stop, cease-fire, done-and-dusted… etc. The positive is that you now have more options. That sounds silly, right? Well, stick with me here. Because your rejection-related options consist of:
1. Ice-cream or M&Ms.
2. The Notebook or A Walk to Remember (or Bambi if you’re a real sucker for punishment).
3. Retail therapy or beach counselling.
Okay, I’ll be serious now. Here are your real rejection-related decisions:
1. How much do I want this?
2. What else can I do to make this happen?
3. How willing am I to change and adapt? (This is an important one for writers! If you’re getting a stack of rejection letters, it might be time to re-evaluate your manuscript and see why agents/editors/publishers just aren’t grabbing your ‘vision’. Does your query letter suck? Are your sample pages boring? Is your protagonist annoying? Is it the synopsis or (gasp!) the concept itself? Be super-critical, and if you can’t do that, find someone who can – and be willing to accept their honest critique without throwing a brick at their head. (That is a bad idea. Acceptance = good. Brick throwing = prison.)
… And, finally, the big rejection-related question:
4. IS IT WORTH IT?
You’ll know if it’s worth it by how you react to it. If you’re one of those people who receives a rejection letter and then screams obscenities at the world for the next half hour (or longer), then kudos for your ‘unique’ kind of passion. But, heads-up, that’s not actually going to get you anywhere – unless you’re outside, then you might get arrested for disturbing the peace or indecent behaviour in public or whatever, in which case you’ll probably get some kind of unpleasant fine (at best) or a night in the local prison sharing a cell with Hillbilly-Joe who keeps asking you to “pull my finger!” while telling you over and over again that your eyes sparkle like rainbows and your hair looks like rays of sunshine…
…Erm, not that that’s ever happened to me… *awkward shuffle*…
(Mum, are you reading this? It’s me, your angelic daughter who has never spent the night in a prison cell. It’s also the one who has never shouted obscenities in public – or elsewhere. Even after stubbing my toe – and you know how much that hurts!).
What was I saying?
Oh, right. Rejection. Is it worth it? *shrugs* That’s something only you can answer.
The long and short of it is, we often see our work through rose-coloured glasses. Even if we can accept that our ‘finished’ product isn’t perfect, it’s still evidently good enough by our standards that we’ve chosen to send it off for submission. And that’s why we don’t like being rejected – because, especially in the literary world when we rarely get much more than a form response with absolutely no feedback – we simply don’t understand where we went wrong. But be encouraged, because if you do choose to stick with it, if you decide that it is, in fact, worth all the heartache and heartbreak, then one day all your efforts will hopefully pay off. That was indeed the case for many of our favourite best-selling authors, right?
Speaking of those authors… I stumbled across a fabulous website recently which lists a heap of best-selling writers and gives details of the rejections they had to overcome before they were signed on. I’ve copied a few of my favourites here, but if you want to see the full list, check out Literary Rejections.
The Christopher Little Literary Agency receives 12 publishing rejections in a row for their new client, until the eight-year-old daughter of a Bloomsbury editor demands to read the rest of the book. The editor agrees to publish but advises the writer to get a day job since she has little chance of making money in children’s books. Yet Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling spawns a series where the last four novels consecutively set records as the fastest-selling books in history, on both sides of the Atlantic, with combined sales of 450 million.
“Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.” A rejection letter sent to Dr Seuss. 300 million sales and the 9th best-selling fiction author of all time.
“It is so badly written.” The author tries Doubleday instead and his little book makes an impression. The Da Vinci Code sells 80 million.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter was rejected so many times she decided to self-publish 250 copies. It has now sold 45 million.
Margaret Mitchell gets 38 rejections from publishers before finding one to publish her novel Gone With The Wind. It sells 30 million copies.
Despite 14 consecutive agency rejections Stephenie Meyer‘s Twilight goes on to sell 17 million copies and spends 91 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list.
After 20 rejection letters, WM Paul Young self-publishes his novel The Shack. 15 million sales and a cultural phenomenon.
Three years of rejection letters are kept in a bag under her bed. The bag becomes so heavy that she is unable to lift it. But Meg Cabot does not dwell on the failure. Instead she keeps sending her manuscript out. It gets taken on and The Princess Diaries sells 15 million copies.
“An endless nightmare. I think the verdict would be ‘Oh don’t read that horrid book.” Publisher rejects The War Of The Worlds by H.G. Wells. It is soon published in 1898, and has been in print ever since.
“We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” Stephen King’s Carrie sells 1 million in the first year alone.
Do you see where I’m getting at here? Take rejection as a compliment! It means you’re up there with the big-wigs of the best-selling world. Turn your ‘test’ into a ‘testimony’ and you’ll have your very own story to tell one day – one that’s not fiction, but fact.
I’m going to finish here with a quote I love (… and admittedly, one I only found about thirty seconds ago. But, hey! At least I’m honest!):
“A rejection is nothing more than a necessary step in the pursuit of success.” ~ Bo Bennett.
Be encouraged, writers – all it takes is one acceptance and the rest of the rejections will cease to mean anything. And trust me – I’m speaking from experience! :-)