Rejection is painful, but at least it proves you’re working, and it proves you’ve got the guts to put your work out there. Rejection letters are badges of courage, even if we do keep them hidden away. More importantly they often hold words of encouragement and a map to a better approach. I’m not talking about the form letters: “Thank you for letting us see your work; it does not meet our needs at this time.” I’m talking about everything else, from the one liners: “Some great moments, send us more,” to the thoughtful responses some editors will actually take the time to write. The fact that you’re getting thoughtful responses at all is worth celebrating. It took me a while to figure this out.
Let me give you an example, a letter I received in 1996 that told me not to write a novel that revolves around a dead person. The editor wrote, “Knowing the character is dead sort of sucks all the life out of the story. It gives it a fatalism, a gravity that hasn’t been earned.” I’m not sure the puns were intended, but the editor was spot on. More importantly, he went on to give me some encouragement, some suggestions, some practical advice, which I skimmed over as I sulked in the shadow of the main point, “It’s not strong enough that we can offer to work with you on it.” I tucked the letter away and when I crept back to it a few days later, I was able to see the pearls among the swine poop, to twist a metaphor. The lessons among the bad news. And I was grateful.
So what lessons can rejection teach us?
1. It will happen, so get used to it. Take it seriously, but don’t take it personally. No writer is going to please everyone. Try again. And again until you find the right match.
2. Be positive. If you find any personal commentary AT ALL on the rejection, take it as a good sign. I have interpreted a felt tip underlining of “Thank you for letting us see your work,” as an invitation to send more. Comments like “I liked this a lot but. . .“ and “I wish it had been a fit. . .” I have come to experience as mini-pep rallies.
3. Recognize patterns. If a particular plot device isn’t working for 90% of your readers, there’s probably something wrong with the plot device. If 85% say they like the voice, then leave it alone. It’s working! If someone asks for an R&R, do it. If not. . .
4. Move on. Once a project is out there making the rounds don’t let the rejections get in the way of your daily work. This is much easier said than done. But the fact remains that rejections provide one of the quickest and deadliest excuses not to keep writing.
So close the inbox, put away the Folders and get yourself immersed in the real work of getting new words on the page.