Happy Agent Monday, everyone! If you live in the northeast, then you have just experienced a weekend full of sparkling sunlight and glittering orange and yellow leaves. That’s gotta make you feel great, right? So this is the perfect time to talk about…rejection! The “R” word. I know, it’s dreaded, negative, a buzz kill, depressing. But let’s take a sparkling sunlit view of it: the positive side of rejection.
Last week, through Philadelphia Stories Magazine, I was able to present a full-day workshop to writers where I focused on the marketplace, what agents do and don’t do, and how to approach and snag the right agent for a writer’s work. It was part of their annual Push to Publish Conference at Rosemont College. One of the first things I did in this workshop was to share my own twisted path as a writer, full of plenty of starts and stops, leading to where I am at this moment as both an author and an agent. I was frank about the tough decisions I had to make in my career, which didn’t always make sense to the world but were right for me (What? You stepped down from a slew of contributing editor positions at magazines to write a novel no one seemed to be interested in???), and the years of rejection I faced.
It’s not that unusual a story. It’s something all writers share. Rejection. And that “why the hell am I doing this?” feeling. But one thing I always emphasize is this: “The only thing I knew for sure was that if I quit, my dreams of becoming a published author would never happen.”
Okay, so after this intro, I had people at my workshop introduce themselves and share what they were working on and the path they’d taken thus far. It ranged widely from already published people, to folks just starting out and exploring their love of writing. But a few themes quickly emerged: the writing life is full of starts and stops. And rejection and other perceived “stops” can stop a writer cold.
The writing life is full of starts and stops.
Just because you’ve had a book published, doesn’t mean that everything goes smoothly. In this audience alone, there was the book that came out through a press that didn’t promote it well, another book that was printed but never left the distribution center! Just because you’ve gotten an agent, doesn’t mean your writing career will then go smoothly. In the audience, there were writers who had agents who had suddenly left the business, or who were operating unethically and had to be dropped.
These writers, however discouraged they may have felt, didn’t stop. They were ready to move ahead. They’d learned a bit about the importance of not just publishing, but publishing well. And about not just getting an agent, but about the importance of getting the right agent.
And they didn’t let any of this stop them in the end.
The writing life isn’t about that one big break. It’s about many opportunities and adversities. It’s about learning from these, and getting smarter and more focused and moving forward. Kinda like life, right?
Rejection can stop a writer cold.
Rejection hurts. When someone rejects your novel idea, it’s like someone called your baby ugly. How do you move on? How do you put the hurt in the right place and not let it stop you?
At the workshop, some folks admitted that they were afraid to send out query letters, or to send out many of them. One writer quite honestly admitted that if she didn’t query widely she could always tell herself that there was the possibility that someone would take the book. She wasn’t ready to really put herself out there and find out that she simply wasn’t good enough.
Who hasn’t felt like that?
Here’s the thing: you gotta really be honest with yourself. Are you standing in the way of your own goal of getting published? If you never submit, or rarely submit, then, yup, you are. The writing life is full of starts and stops and starts again. And there isn’t one editor, one agent, one publisher, but many, with many differing opinions. And you are not a writer with one static piece of writing. You can edit it, and try again. You can write yet another piece and try again. You can learn from the rejection process and improve over and over again.
Like the writers who had some success but then a surprising roadblock, and went on to do even better, you can learn from rejection and move on, and move closer to your goal.
So send out a few queries. Get only form rejections? Then redo your query and send out a few more. Make sure you are targeting the right agents who are actually interested in what you write. Start getting pages requested? Then your query is doing its job. Not getting the right response for those pages? Then see if you can learn from those rejections and improve your writing. And write something new, too. Always move forward.
Learn from your rejection. And keep your chin up. Take a moment. Revitalize yourself, doing whatever inspires you. Read something you love. Take a walk through the glittering autumn sunshine, and get back to writing and sending your stuff out. It’s a process, and you are NOT alone.
And you might want to remind yourself of some of the subjectivity of our business by getting yourself a slim little book I always keep on my shelf: ROTTEN REJECTIONS. It’s a compendium of just that.
Here’s one of my favorites from that book, which Nabokov received for LOLITA:
“…it is overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian. To the public, it will be revolting. It will not sell, and it will do immeasurable harm to a growing reputation…”
So go forth, writer. And be not afraid!
*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.