by Marissa Macy
I have an email folder titled SUBMISSION REPLIES. It’s full of rejections.
This didn’t grab me.
It’s not quite right for my list at the moment.
This business is incredibly subjective.
Sprinkled in, there is constructive criticism and the odd compliment. There are a few acceptance letters. They’re for smaller pieces in online magazines nobody’s heard of. I’d have to send you a link. My mom is proud of those small triumphs, she calls it progress.
I read that Stephen King had a large nail on his wall, and each rejection he received was impaled upon it. J.K. Rowling was rejected multiple times before becoming an international success/billionaire/immortal icon. Dr. Suess, I’ll have you know, was turned down 27 times before his first story was published. Book-turned-movie The Help, saw denial from 60 literary agents.
These are anecdotes that I’ve come to hate. People, who are not writers and sometimes not even readers, like to share these inspirational bits with me.
“Whatever happened to that book you were working on?” Aunt Trisha asks.
“I’m shopping it around,” you say.
You’re paying your dues. Rejection is a part of the process. The best artists learn from their failures. That’s what writers will tell you, those who have made it to the magical, mystical “published novelist” status. Hey, I’ll give credit where it’s due; they’re not wrong. Rejection is important, it helps you be better, face your ego, build thick skin, blah blah blah.
I’m not going to say anything new. This is not a thesis for why people should self-publish. I believe in gate keepers. I’m a snob. I just want to say that rejection sucks. It sucks for the reasons people expect.
There’s a journey to rejection, layers and levels of woe.
At first, you read that it happens to everyone. All great writers have rejections to their name, some more than others. And yet, floating in the mythology, there are tales of dumb luck. If the lady who wrote Twilight and that other lady who wrote Fifty Shades of Grey got published, then I sure can! So when you finish your first novel, you think that you’ll be one of the chosen ones. You send out a select number of queries to top agents. You check your email with fevered compulsion. Gasp! The first reply comes, and from the message preview, it looks like good news. You open the email. It’s a form rejection.
It hurts. You wallow. You are not one of the chosen. So, you shake it off, remember all the listicles about the Top 10 Most Rejected Authors and send out your queries to anyone who seems like they could be vaguely interested.
At the end of six months, you’ve exhausted all options, had a few teases, but have nothing to show for it but a browser history full of writers’ forum visits and agent Twitter stalking. Not only are you not a chosen one, but you realize that your book isn’t very good at all. At this point, you either re-write it or start the next Great American Novel / Dystopian YA. It takes you somewhere between 12 months and three years. When this book is done, you know it’s the one. The world has been waiting for it.
You recognize your stupidity in querying the first time around, and strike out anew. You apply the lessons you’ve learned. You are so mature now! You research agents, write a great cover letter, pump up your bio with the sprinklings of small successes. You participate in pitch events. You will be published by your next birthday.
You are not published by your next birthday. You do not have an agent.
Somewhere between the starting optimism and a full year of defeat, you start telling your writer friends that the rejections don’t even matter anymore. You don’t even feel them. It’s part of the process. It’s such a subjective business. My goodness, you would not believe! The book you’ve written is so niche. Finding the right agent or small press is hard work. You stand by your work, and you keep reminding your parents and yourself that it’s part of the journey.
After some time, the rejection stops being cute, and it starts to feel like defeat. You wallow. You’ve exhausted your options. The book really isn’t that great.
It’s impossible to tell if you are an undiscovered gem of the publishing industry or if you actually suck. You don’t think you suck. It can’t possibly be that bad. After all, you did get some short stories published.
There are other anecdotes out there, dark ones, often told by busybodies on the internet. They are tales of writers who didn’t get published until their seventh novel, ten years in. Others writers work into infinity, doomed to haunt the inboxes of literary agencies until the end of time. Before, you thought these people struggled because they were bad writers. Now, you have a folder full of 200 rejections and even more no-replies, and you are one of those people.
You write your next book. But it’s different this time, it’s actually really good. People are going to rave about it on Good Reads. You’ll be chosen. You have the perfect agent in mind, and this book is just what they’re looking for.
So, get over yourself, you sad-sack little baby! This is a business for toughies, not softies! Get back on the horse! Pick yourself by the boot straps! Don’t give up! Anything worth it in this life is hard! Tough bananas!
It’s not that easy to brush it off. Writers are supposed to write, not fret over the philosophy of rejection. And on some days, it’s that easy. I get up and write the damn thing (the thing that may or may not see the light of day). Other days, I wallow. Rejection starts out really hard, gets easy, then stays easy all the way up to the point when the sheer volume of rejection weighs down you and your happy thoughts.
Hence: it sucks.
However, to remedy the negativity, I do have a few annoying inspirational tidbits of advice for any sad sacks out there. I will cringe as I write them from my pitch-black query hell.
- It actually is really subjective.
- All writers DO go through it.
- Developing the ability to face rejection can be liberating in other areas of life: relationships, applying for jobs that give you money, other art forms you might pursue.
- It keeps your huge, pulsing ego in check.
- I guess you could like take yourself out on an ice cream date or get an expensive smoothie every time you get a rejection letter? I dunno.
- Maybe one day you can print the rejections out and put them in a binder, then take it with you when you read to children at libraries. It will either crush or inspire them.
- If you’re getting rejections at all, it means that you’re putting the work in, you goddamn champ.
So, do the work.
Learn more about Marissa at marissamacy.com