So, you’re a writer. Congratulations. And condolences. While it’s one of the most rewarding things you can do with your life, it can also be extremely discouraging. One of the daily realities of writers’ lives is that we deal with rejection all the time. If you’re serious about writing, and your work is out there, you’ll need to learn how to deal with rejection on a daily basis. More likely on a many-times-a-day basis.
What? How can this be? I hear you asking Don’t you sell and sell and sell, all the time? What’s this about rejection?
Hmm. Apparently I have to give away a dirty secret of the writing world, but first, I need you to do something for me: go look at a couple of writer’s blogs or websites.
You’ll probably have noticed that none of these people are mentioning rejection.
That’s because blogs and websites are the highlight reel. Everyone gets to see our highlight reel, but we keep our blooper reels to ourselves (or maybe commiserate with other writers about it when no one else is listening). We don’t tell you about our rejections because an image of success often breeds more success.
But behind those facades, rejections still happen; there’s too much talent competing for too few publication slots. Something has to give. That means that they happen a lot, and if you want to be a writer, you have to know that there will be some days when the rejections will grind you down to the bedrock. Whether or not you continue as a writer depends on your capacity to ignore them and move on.
So, I will assume that your story is polished and all those other things everyone always blogs about and, without further ado, I give you my six secrets to surviving rejection:
1. Don’t pin all your hopes on a story that you’re sure will be your breakthrough.
It will most likely be rejected from the breakthrough market, not because it’s bad but because no matter what stage you’re at in your writing career, there are likely huge numbers of other talented writers who view that same market as their breakthrough. That means that most times, things get rejected.
The hardest blow to get up from is usually the one that all your hopes were tied to. The best way to avoid that is not to tie your hopes to any one response. It’s hard to do, but it’s a critical survival skill.
2. Don’t pin your hopes on it, but send it to The New Yorker anyway.
It’s much better to be rejected than to wonder forever if they might have liked it if you hadn’t chickened out before sending it over. This same thing goes for the dream literary agent. Some people are making it through the door. Why not you?
But don’t get your hopes too high!
3. Write something else while you’re waiting.
The new story, the one you just finished writing, before you even edit it, is your new blue-eyed-boy. It’s the bright star in your firmament and the apple of your eye. I could go on with the clichés, but you get it. Its shininess is what makes the rejection of something older seem less serious.
When you have something new to show, you can say: “So what if they hated the old crock I sent them two months ago? Wait till they see this.”
4. But if the old crock comes back with an email that contains the word “unfortunately” in it, get it back out there immediately. It was once your blue-eyed boy, and if it’s good, it will sell. If you trunk it, it won’t.
Besides, the act of sending it back out erases the rejection. It becomes something to hope (without overdoing it, see point 1) will sell.
5. Celebrate everything. For a good chunk of your writing career, rejection will make up the majority of your communication with the wider literary world. So you need to raise a glass to anything that isn’t a rejection.
Sold a story? Agent asked to see your full MS? Jump with joy!
Agent offered representation? Faint… then jump with joy.
Got a story accepted to a non-paying market? Celebrate it. You will eventually move away from these, but it’s still an achievement. They reject stories, too, and getting in is a sign that your writing is pretty good.
A book or magazine containing one of your stories was published? Hooray!
Ditto a cover reveal!
Got a good review? You’re buying the drinks today.
A bad review? Celebrate anyway. Reviewers don’t read just anything. The fact that someone bothered to mention your work means you’re out there.
I think you get the point.
Bonus Advice, especially useful to those breaking in.
6. A rewrite request is something awesome. Put it on top of your priority list.
Yes, I know you’re the second coming F.Scott Fitzgerald and the editor didn’t get the amazing artistry of your piece. And yes, I know the rewrite they’re requesting will ruin the story.
You’re going to do the rewrite anyway. The editor controls access to the market, and they knows their readers better than you do. If you lose a sale because you didn’t want to do the rewrite… you’ve just made a career mistake and added another rejection to your list. And the whole point here is to maximize the occurrence of everything that isn’t a rejection.
Besides, you’re not the second coming of F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Well, that’s my list. Will it help you feel better about rejections? Honestly? Yeah, it does, but it won’t completely inoculate you against them. You’ll still feel the sting, and sometimes, repeated application of that sting will grind you down. When it does, the only thing that will save you is the quality of that bedrock I mentioned earlier.
The real writers, the ones that eventually work (or luck) their way into a career, are the ones that get up one more time than the literary world knocks them down.
Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer. His best-known work is Siege, which you can check out here.