“It’s Not Personal.”

I talked about rejection before, saying (quite scandalously) that it’s good for you. I suggested that you could farm your rejections to get to the heart of what may or may not be wrong with a project. It certainly helped me with UNLEASHED – I didn’t do an onspec revision, but took the few notes I’d received from submission editors and went at my rewrite armed with their criticisms. It made the book more marketable in the long run, and for it, ended up on the auction block.

Today, I want to talk about a different angle of rejection, and that’s the picking-yourself-up-off-the floor angle. Recovering from the necessary slight. True crappy fact: every writer will be rejected. It’s unavoidable. Taste in art varies so much – what some people think is brilliant, others think is trite and boring. You might pen a story with your heart’s blood, but someone somewhere won’t care that you did. Someone won’t like it. Honestly? Many someones won’t like it, and that cold, hard truth is made abundantly clear when you start to query agents. If you are a mystical unicorn and managed to avoid the rejection ax with agents, prepare for it with editors. And if once again you dodged that bullet? The bad reviews are coming, y’all. They’re marching over the horizon like a Peter Jackson ensemble cast.

Even the best books in the world have their naysayers. Everyone in publishing will be rejected.

It’s a pretty awful feeling. You don’t want to care so much, but you do – this book or project took you a long time to complete and here comes this stranger saying it’s just not good enough for X reason. That’s tough. Crushing, really – books aren’t something that happen over the course of two days. It’s months or years of labor dismissed because someone couldn’t get behind your vision. You put your soul into that sucker, damn it, why can’t they see that?

The reality is people in the industry do understand. People who write are dreamers and those stories are manifestations of our dreams. We want to resonate with an audience and this is how we go about it. Unfortunately, just because it’s a little dream doesn’t mean it’s the right dream for a specific agent or editor. They get a pile of dreams thrust at them over the course of the year and they have to sort which ones to adopt into their stable according to their tastes and pub house needs. Most industry folks aren’t cruel about their rejections, but they also can’t take the time to cradle everyone to their bosoms and tell them their story is special – it’s just not feasible nor is it really fair to expect that of them. They have a job to do. This is an uglier facet of that job.

The readers and reviewers are a slightly different bunch, but suffice it to say ten minutes on Goodreads will show you how little your dream matters to some of them. There are people who take insidious glee in tearing down a book. Snark is easier than kindness and gets more attention. We, as writers, are expected to rise above it and ignore it. Part of the downside of our job is that we’ve put ourselves out there, all exposed and flabby and knobby as we are, and the faceless throng will delight in poking at our flaws. It’s, uhh. Well, it’s hurtful a lot of the times.

And hurtful sucks.

How do you get over it? Well, not really glorious, but you bitch about it to people who can understand. Not abusively so, but feel free to talk about it with people in the industry who’ve experienced the same things. Which is, you know, everyone. Talk about your rejections. They’re not shameful secrets because we all deal with it. Maybe what you have to say will help a peer come to grips with the associative emptiness that comes with constant rejection. Maybe what they have to say will help you. Talk out your feelings because it’s not as simple as saying “it’s not personal.” It certainly FEELS personal and it’s okay that it does. Bee stings hurt. So does being told you’re not good enough. Don’t think you have to be this stoic robot standing alone in the corner.

The thing is talking about it is only the first step. You have to move on after that, which is infinitely harder than complaining. If you don’t move on, you’re obsessive and whiny and then you are THAT PERSON and no one will want to talk to you ever. You’ll be like Creepy Todd the Sock Sniffer – avoided and loathed, shunned by society. Stop yourself from getting to that point by doing two very important things:

  • Look ahead. One rejection will not crush a project. Shit, twenty won’t. Realize that it’s one opinion in a vast ocean of opinions. Don’t put too much onus on one voice when there are so many other voices to be heard.
  • Write another story. For God’s sake, write something new.

If you’re busy crafting a story for that saucy vixen Gloria the Wonder Gnome, you can’t be all hung up on someone saying bad stuff about your previous work. Take your angst about rejection and pour it into another literary baby. Let the feelings flow like water on the page. You know that cliche’ bit about artists producing better art when they’re miserable? WELP. YOU CAN BE ONE OF THOSE BROODING MASTERPIECE CREATORS. It’s like recycling, really – take the bad feelings about a pass on a project and use them to fuel something new. Give Gloria the Wonder Gnome a machete and have her attack a badger army. YOU WILL SHOW THE WORLD YOUR GREATNESS. WITH LASERS AND FLYING SHARKS!

I think you catch my drift.

So, yes, rejection is a necessary part of the writer’s journey. It’s a miserable one that’s capable of crushing our souls, but it also plays a vital role in making us better, stronger writers. Remember, it’s okay to let yourself feel badly about it. It’s okay to talk about it with others who will understand. Cut yourself a break. And when you’re done cutting yourself a break, get up, shake off, and go make something bigger and brighter. It’s the only way to go.

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