I think you could label choosing to be a writer as a career as embarking on a profession of rejection. (It is just such a catchy phrase, I kind of love it). And what I mean by that is exactly what is says: when you commit to writing, you’re also committing to being rejected. A lot. And I’m not just talking about query letters. Which will happen. A lot. I’m up to the double digits, personally, and I wouldn’t even label myself as querying “seriously.” I’ve undergone a few rounds of sending out emails with my query imbedded (not attached; they won’t even look at it otherwise; what is attached is the soft, faint threads of hope I have at getting representation, at finding that agents that’s like, “Yes! I want you, Pikachu.” And by Pikachu, they mean my manuscript and, through my manuscript, me. Though I’d willingly turn myself into a Pokémon, if that helped me achieve representation).
Anyway, long side rant aside, I’ve not queried furiously (yet), but in a few rounds of sending out half a dozen to even a full dozen queries, I’ve received only rejections. At first, it was very disheartening. Not only were they rejections for representation, and rejecting my story, but they almost never come with an answer or explanation as to why it is being rejected. And I totally understand that agents don’t have time to personalize queries and offer paragraphs of explanation as to why that particular query doesn’t suit them personally. Hell, most agents don’t even have time to send a rejection, resulting in a silent exclamation of “no” after a certain period of time. But, as a writer, it is very difficult to improve a story when I’m not getting feedback about what is “wrong” with it (though, I think I did receive a bit of insight as to why my manuscript has been getting rejected so often, which I will write about in a separate post).
Yet that is only one level of rejection a writer faces. Another thing a writer can do is enter different contests, such as pitching contests, query contests, agent and editor contests–you name it, they probably have it. Yet due to the high demand and popularity of said contests, there is a certain risk to entering them: not everyone can obviously win. I’m slowly perusing the contest realm and though no official announcements have been made of yet concerning the two I have entered, I think I’ll be getting a fair share of rejection on that front, too (again, this belief is spawned from a recent revelation I mention earlier). I also applied to go to a writing conference over the summer–another great tool to help writers improve, often costing money and a lot of time, but what a great way to learn so much. It was with a professor and writer that I love dearly and was very excited, eager and hopeful to work with. I got an email this morning that, while I was very close to making it in, I should probably reapply next year. A bummer, but I was honestly just excited I was so closely considered, that it kind of erased the bummed-out reaction I initially felt.
But say you get published. How exciting! Someone liked your work well enough to represent you and then managed to stick with you long enough to help you achieve your dream and get published. Now, you’re on the shelves and making your way to Rowling status. You can’t experience rejection after experiencing success, can you? Well, technically, as a writer, rejection is one of the constants of your profession. One form is that, despite being read, you won’t be loved by all. Some will probably dislike your book. Maybe even hate it. Maybe think it is the worst thing they’ve ever read. Might even Tweet about it. While that isn’t the same as getting rejected by an agent or losing in a contest, I think it has a special type of sting to it (especially if it’s not just a Tweet, but you discover an entire book review or, even worse, one of your inspirations didn’t like it and gave it a two star rating on Goodreads). Then, of course, once you start your next project, you’ll have to go through the process all over again, if your agent doesn’t like the idea (forcing you to find another) or if you have to go to a different publishing house.
This post might seem overwhelmingly negative, but that is not my intent. Instead, I simply wanted to point out that writing and rejection go hand-in-hand. I don’t think you can be successful within the industry without developing a thick skin (something I’ve always struggled with) and dedicating a wall to your rejection letter collection. In realizing this, I think it is another reason for any aspiring writer to query to all the agents that seem like a good fit (after doing their research on said agents, of course); enter into all of the contests you can find; go to those conventions and enter to participate in a workshop; find a writing circle and beta readers and critique partners and get feedback on your manuscript; because all of these things, and more, will not only (potentially) give you exposure to rejection, harsh criticism and different perspectives, but they are also the resources, opportunities and experiences a writer has to grow and improve their craft, until eventually they reach a point where rejections don’t only cover their wall, but a few copies of their books sit on their shelves, too. For me personally, I think recognizing that writing is a profession of rejection, and rejection–in some form–will always be a constant companion, makes me actually relax a bit more and will help me learn to not take those who dislike my writing so personally, but instead question it, learn from it and grow from that response. Because in the end, everything I’ve gone through as a writer helps me improve. Every rejection–even the ones I don’t fully understand just yet.
Don’t fear rejection. Embrace it and chase after the chance to be rejected. Because you can’t be rejected or criticized unless you’ve done something. For writers, that means having a completed project and taking the next step after finishing a draft (and editing ten more). Plus, having the confidence and the kudos to take that next step. And that, my friends, is an accomplishment in itself that no amount of rejection can take away.