Harsh word. Harsher reality. And, unfortunately, a part of every writer's life. Here it is, early on Wednesday morning, and this has already been a week where rejection has played a huge part in the life events of all kinds of writers at all different levels. For me this week, rejection has been the catchphrase. So, I wanted to address rejection in this blog post. I kind of feel obligated to, because not only have I had to reject writers this week, but I've been rejected myself as well.
Strange, isn't it? That I can deal in rejections after receiving my own? And sure--there's a part of me that thinks, "ANY writer, given the proper chance, training and editing, can succeed." I honestly believe that. That's part of the Musa creed, in fact. We take writers and build authors. It's our mission.
And yet...does that mean every writer RIGHT NOW is ready to take advantage of that creed?
No, it doesn't.
Let me tell you a story. The first draft of The Reckoning of Asphodel that I wrote was in 1983. I came back to it in 2003, when I had to quit work after my car accident. We were poor---POOOOOOOOOOOR--and I was stuck at home all day by myself while my husband worked two jobs. And after rent and food and medicine and doctors' bills and gas and car insurance and utilities, there was nothing left for cable or internet or even books. So, just to entertain myself, I dug out this old story from my memory--not even the paper manuscript--and set about writing a story to keep myself sane. And after that story was written (and the other three as well), it took me three years and multiple rejections before I finally found a publisher.
Twenty years. And don't get me wrong--that manuscript was rejected back in 1984 and 1985 when I was a dumb college kid who didn't know the first thing about how to submit or what even made up a good story. My writing career was born of rejection, just like every other writer out there. My study wall is papered with printed up rejections--the helpful ones, that steered me in the right direction; the painful ones, that almost made it; and even a few stupid ones. You know--for the wrong manuscript or the wrong author name. So every time when I look at a new manuscript from my slushpile, before I write that rejection letter I'm confronted with literally hundreds of my own failures. I try to take into account how each rejection made me feel, what it made me do, and if it helped or hurt.
This week so far, I've had a writer attack one of my editors online because she rejected his manuscript--and this after I wrote him probably one of the gentlest and most encouraging rejections I have EVER written. I was concerned upon reading his manuscript that he wasn't quite mature enough as a writer to work through the editing process successfully. And, within 48 hours, my lack of conviction in the writer's maturity was borne out.
I wonder. Will he take that manuscript out in a couple of decades and look at it again? Or will he move on to another project and submit to us as we advised and encouraged him to do? Or, will he instead play the victim card, and fritter away his talent and promise?
And will I ever know?
Then, less than twenty-four hours later, I got probably one of the most crushing rejections I have ever received. Crushing--not because it was a rejection, but because against every instinct I have to the opposite, I very foolishly allowed myself to think that maybe one of my agented manuscripts had found a home.
I knew better than to do that, and I paid for it.
But...I have to admit, as crushing as the rejection was, I find myself thinking in an entirely different manner about the repercussions. I'm not sitting here dwelling on *manuscript A* rejected by *insert Big Six house here* after having *manuscript A* for well over *insert number higher than 8 and lower than 12 here* months.
(okay--maybe a little bitter about the months thing. I'll admit it.)
Instead, within the same email to my agent after she delivered the news, I was already thinking about the NEXT publisher. I was already processing the COMMENTS of the editor who'd taken the book to committee and had lost. I was already thinking AHEAD.
The thing about publishing, and writing, and all the intangibles involved in the submission process is that any work is malleable. Any opportunity lost can become an opportunity gained. And the author who wishes to succeed in publishing, to gain all that they hope for and have worked for, must keep their focus AHEAD. Sure--it's okay to be depressed for a bit. I muttered a few choice...verbs at my computer screen when I woke up to that email. But then pick yourself up and move on to the next house on your list. Or, if the rejection includes comments that resonate with you, take a look at the manuscript. If the comments don't jingle any strings, though, just move forward. The last thing I want to encourage any author to do is to change their manuscript every time they get a personalized rejection. All you'll get out of that is a confused mess of changes that don't enhance the story.
Regardless of what you decide to do with the manuscript, the real course lies only in one direction. Ahead. Anything else will throw you off course for years. And if you reach the natural end of the line for the manuscript, wrap it up carefully and store it away.
Every story, every novel you write is a jewel of accomplishment and dedication and education. The more you write, the more you learn. Never let one manuscript, one rejection, one publisher be the end all-be all of your writing career. Take a day--a week--to get your pouting and sulking out of the way. In private is best, and by all means don't run off to the editor's Facebook and leave a snotty comment on their Wall. But get it out of your system if you need to and then move the heck on. Because the only way to prove that rejection was a bad idea? Is to get that manuscript accepted somewhere else.
Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind. J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Both great classics. Both manuscripts, rejected scores of times before someone bought it. Stephen King. John Grisham. Madeline L'Engle. All authors who were rejected--famously--multiple times before they were published. Hell, Anne Frank was rejected. Who could be mean enough to reject Anne Frank? If you talk to any of our great writers, our famous and revered writers, they all have one thing in common. Rejections.
Getting rejections is a part of the growth experience of every writer. We have to get rejected in order to know how to improve ourselves and our work. We have to be told 'no' before we can really appreciate the 'yes.' And just like with every other writing milestone, we have to learn to take these things in stride.
One thing that being an editor has taught me is that it's never easy to reject a writer whose manuscript is almost there. Believe it or not, it's hard. And while I was muttering some strong...verbs at the computer monitor this morning, I wasn't saying them to or about the editor. My verbs had to do with what comes next.
Your verbs should try to do the same thing.
And the adjectives? Well, as with all descriptive terms they should SHOW, not TELL.
Let your work do the job for you. You'll be better off watching the spectacle from the high road, than dragging yourself, your work and your reputation down into the gutter.