So, this week’s been a little on the difficult side. Hold on, who am I kidding: it been a crappy week, in terms of my writing, at least. Three rejections: one for a novel; one for an anthology; and one for two stories entered into a competition (does that make it four rejections? Probably). And that totally blows. I know we’re not supposed to say stuff like that out loud; we’re supposed to be stoic and accept rejection as part of the writing process because, you know, it makes us more resilient, and more persistent, writers. And that’s true, but screw it: right now, rejection sucks, and that’s the end of it.
So what to do about this unenviable predicament? Well, there’s the Bernard Black (Dylan Moran) approach.
Okay, now that we’ve lightened the mood, what can we actually do to help deal with this least fun part of the writer’s life.
The Solace of Writer Friends:
Writing is a solitary, masochistic kind of affair and, if you survive it and create a work that you are in love with, you will then face the multi-headed medusa otherwise known as the publishing industry, which will turn most of your overtures for publication to stone. This is why you need friends; and not just any friends, but writer friends.
These are people who share your obsessions and ‘get’ you like no other friends, lovers, or relations. They understand your frustration at being void of an idea, or being buried in a plot hole, or having characters who refuse to reveal themselves. They understand your elation at a thematic epiphany, at resonant dialogue, at a piece of description that transcends into the sublime. And when some publisher shoots your hopes down in flames, they get that too.
Where do you find these amazing individuals? For me, my two best writer friends came from university; one who was a student I worked with, and one who was a colleague; both of whom have shared copious amounts of coffee with me as we’ve supported each other through some tough times, and some brilliant times, in our writing. Of course, university is not the only place to find writers, but taking a course – at TAFE, or a community college, or online – can be a great avenue for connecting with other like-minded people— and leaning some cool new skills too!
I met one of my other writer friends when she started her own writer’s group, and she has been a source of inspiration and support to me ever since (I have this friend to thank for the publication of Sisterhood). Writer’s groups can be brilliant fun, and very supportive; an internet search of your local area could turn up a suitable group, or try your local library for information, or why not start your own group?
Finally, every state has a writer’s centre (in Queensland, it’s the Brisbane Writer’s Centre), which are founts of useful information, and each state has its own major writer’s festival, where you can go to author talks, forums, and workshops. But there are also numerous smaller festivals, retreats, one-off workshops, and talks where writer types like to hang out. In short, find and become part of a writer’s community, grow friendships with creatures of a similar bent, and lean on each other when the rejection fairy smacks you in the face with her metal-studded wand.
Make ‘Never Give Up’ Your Mantra:
That’s how many times my third novel has been rejected. In the grand scheme of things, this is a drop in the rejection bucket (although it certainly doesn’t feel that way at the moment). Many other highly successful writers have had their work rejected many more times than this – jump over to Litrejections for some inspiring reading – and the lesson to take from those writers is Never Give Up. After all, although rejection bites the big one, if you don’t have faith in your work, who will?
So, rather than wallowing in rejection self-pity, be strategic and target those publishers who offer you the next best chance of publication. And, if/when the rejections roll in, find the next publisher, and then the next, and keep going until someone says yes. During this process, drink lots of coffee with your writer friends for morale support and, if you receive feedback with a rejection – unusual, but it does happen – be prepared to look at the work again, and to perhaps re-write, especially if you receive the same feedback from, say, three different sources.
For me, I sent my manuscript to publisher number fourteen the day after the last rejection came in – one day of sulking was enough :) – and number fifteen and sixteen are in my sights.
Gettin’ All Hippy:
Sometimes, though, waiting through a bazillion rejections is just way too soul-destroying. In this case, I’m happy to say, there is an alternative. Independent publishing, or self-publishing, may well be the path that is right for your work. Australian author, Matthew Reilly, kicked off his successful writing career by self-publishing his first novel, Contest, after it was repeatedly rejected by traditional publishers – read the story here. Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, American author, William P. Young self-published his Christian-oriented novel, The Shack, after begin rejected by both secular and religious traditional publishers. 20 million plus copies later, and the rest is – as they say – history.
Of course, in both these cases, the novels/writers were eventually picked up by traditional publishers, but there are still a significant number of writers who are making a substantial living from publishing their work independently. This was the path I chose for my second novel, Sisterhood, and it will be the path I take for my ‘rejected’ anthology; an adventure I’ll blog about in the near future.
And what of my two unsuccessful stories?
Well, now that I’m over the initial hurt of their rejection, I’ll take a breath and revisit them to see what I can tweak, tighten, and improve. Then, when I feel I’ve improved their quality, I’ll start looking for a new home for them among the literary magazines and competitions. And, if I can’t find a place for them in the traditional publishing landscape, then perhaps there will be another anthology to add to my independent publishing credits.
But that’s not where this story ends because the hardest part about receiving rejections is the loss of confidence that can accompany them. In the short term, such a crisis is okay, for a day or three, but then resilience has to kick in. Having faith in your writing, in your ability, is essential for success. A rejection doesn’t mean there isn’t potential in the writing, or in your ability. It means you haven’t found the right partner yet; the one who has as much faith in your writing as you do. If you give up, you’ll never find them; if you preserve… well, have you heard of Dr Seuss?
So, what are you waiting for? The pep talks over; get back to work (she says unto herself).