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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Rejection and the Writer – Part 1: Coping with Rejection

Publishing and rejection go hand-in-hand. The minute you let your work out into the world, you need to be prepared for the fact that someone will turn it down. It’s a tough reality to face, but how you respond to that reality, both personally and professionally, is one of the factors that will help define your writing career.

Today, in the first of a two-part posting, we’ll look at ways of coping with rejection when it happens to you. Next, in part two we’ll look at how responding to rejections in a constructive and professional manner can help your mindset and your career.

Coping with Rejection

If you’re a writer, and you’re trying to get published, you’re going to get rejected at some point in your career. That’s an important thing to come to grips with, so take a minute and let it sink in. Every writer gets rejected (except for maybe Michael Chabon.) And by “every writer”, I mean you, too (unless, of course, you happen to be Michael Chabon.)

It’s painful, yes, but it doesn’t have to be anything to get worked up over. Being a successful writer doesn’t mean being universally loved. Even the greats have their detractors. By that logic, getting a rejection--or a dozen, or even a hundred--doesn’t mean that you’re a bad writer. Often a rejection has less to do with the quality of your work than it does with the individual tastes of the agent (or publisher), the vagaries of the market, and just plain luck.

With all that in mind, the fear of rejection doesn’t need to be something that stops you from seeking publication, nor should the fact of it be something you spend too much time dwelling on. Don’t take it personally, and don’t take it to heart. It’s only one person’s opinion, a result of consequences that are beyond your control, so don’t sweat it.

Easier said than done, right?

So, what do you do when you’re short on Zen and staring down the barrel of a rejection letter? The first and most important thing you should do is to set that letter aside and send out another query. Like the old adage about falling off a horse, you need to replace any sense of disappointment or failure with one of hope and excitement. Better yet, send out two. Focus on the future, not the past, and don’t allow one setback (or a dozen, or more) to deter you from your goal.

Next, think about this old business trick: For every successful sale that a salesperson has, they might go on ten appointments. For every appointment, they might have to make ten calls. So, for every sale, they have to call a hundred people. When one of those calls says no, that means the salesperson is 1/100th closer to his goal.

Now, apply that to your queries. You might assume that it will take 10 requests for partials before you sell your manuscript, and you might estimate that it will take 20 queries for each partial. Change the numbers to suit your own expectations; they’re really not what matter. What matters is that you stop thinking of a rejection letter as a failure, and start looking at it as one step closer to your goal.

Finally, ask yourself this question: “Do I believe in my work and in my abilities as a writer?” If the answer is no, then you need to figure out why and address it if you’re going to have any hope of success. But if the answer is yes (and if you’re at the point where you’re seeking publication, it should be), then there shouldn’t be anything that anyone else can say that will stand between you and your goal.

Next time, we’ll look at responding to rejections constructively, and how a little professionalism can go a long way. In the meantime, keep your chin up, stay positive, and remember, above all, that the best way to respond to rejection is to get back to writing.

Christopher Hawkins


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