Taking a hit – a writer’s toolkit for rejection

Laura Tobias’  Mars, Venus, and the Rejection  at the PenWarriors.com blog is a humorous reflection on the impact rejections make on a writer.

Of course writers aren’t alone – everyone experiences rejection at one time or another. Those of us who put our personal creations out to the world – whether they be stories, songs, dances, or paintings – are inevitably going to be judged on those creations. That judgment may be harsh, approving, or indifferent. I’ve sold 29 novels to major publishers, and one book on writing. I’ve also received my share of rejections. Some rejections haven’t had much of an impact while others have been devastating. A couple of times I’ve had works that I thought were my best rejected, and those rejections hit harder than others.

Usually I’ve been able to learn something from the rejections, sometimes a valuable lesson in craft or marketing. One rejection that came marked the beginning of a period when I had a lot of trouble believing in myself as a writer. I realize now that the rejection probably hit harder because it came shortly after my mother’s death, although I didn’t make the connection at the time.

Every human being gets rejected and it’s difficult for us to avoid taking the “no” as a denial of personal worth. The thing about rejection is that it’s often out of our control. No story will please every reader, and we can’t control the realities of publisher’s balance sheets, marketing research, and editorial opinions. All we can do is tell the best story we can, in the best way we can, and get it out there for people to read.

I’ve gathered a collection of tools to deal with my own crises of confidence. Here are the things that work best for me:

  • Sharing: My first instinct is to keep the rejection and my reaction inside, but I’ve learned how important it is to share it with trusted people. My husband is a great help because he believes in me when my own confidence falters. I know my PenWarrior.com friends will offer support and realistic advice, and they’ll usually share some of their own experiences, which helps me remember I’m not alone.
  • I treasure these books:
    • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. This little book of essays is a treasure filled with humor and wisdom!
    • The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person’s Path Through Depression by Eric Maisel. Amazing wisdom and excellent advice based on the experience of many other creative people, and Maisel who is a great creativity coach. Maisel has a number of other books that give practical, inspiring advice to empower yourself and your creativity.
    •  The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey. One of the most valuable things I learned in this book is to focus on my circle of influence, not my circle of concern. Basically, this means to put my energies where I have power, not on the things that are out of my power. I can’t control what a publisher does, but I can make sure I write the best book I know how, work on my skills, and get my stories out there where people can read them.
  • Remind myself that many excellent authors have had amazing, great stories rejected, then later famously published
    • Stephen King nailed all the rejections he got for Carrie (his famous first novel) to a spike in his bedroom. One of those letters read: “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.”
    • J. K. Rawlings’ Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s (laterSorceror’s) Stone was rejected by 12 publishers before the daughter of Bloomsbury’s CEO begged her father to publish it.
    • Read about these and other rejections of famous, successful authors
Now, if I can just remember all this the next time I get a rejection!


2 thoughts on “Taking a hit – a writer’s toolkit for rejection”

  1. Dear Vanessa:

    On the subject of rejection, it is well to remember that Moby Dick, arguably the greatest American novel written thus far, sold only 3000 (or so) copies in Herman Melville’s lifetime!

    The point of the matter is that if you can write a great novel, sooner or later the value of your work may be discovered – even if you do not live to see it. And when it is finished, you will always have the personal satisfaction of having done it.

    There are many unsung heros and heroines amonst us, in fiction as in life. The author, not unlike any other person, is always alone in the laboratory (or the labyrinth) of his own mind. He or she may or may not find companions, or readers, to share ideas and musings with; and that’s OK, too. It is in that sense, however, that all creative persons are very much alone and fearful of rejection.

    Why must everything we do be instantly judged as a failure or a success, when nothing is necessarily one or the other?

    1. John, thank you for some excellent observations on the subject of rejection. You’re right, it’s unreasonable for our creations to be instantly judged as failure or success. Great example of Moby Dick!

      When I think rationally about rejection of an artistic work – book, song, painting, or any other creation – I like to use my own responses to the bestseller list as an example of why we shouldn’t take to heart the judgment of one editor or critic. When I browse the top 10 books in a bookstore, I frequently have little interest in more than one or two of them. Sometimes there’s nothing I want to read in the list at all. Every person has individual tastes, and editors and critics are people. Their individual preferences strongly influence their acceptance or rejection.

      The process of creation is, as you say, a solitary one and most writers I know are prone to vulnerable feelings when their work is judged. It’s very affirming for writers to read reminders like yours that failure and success are labels that we shouldn’t take too seriously.

      Thanks for dropping in to share your thoughts.

      And really, why does a creation have to be first, or even fiftieth? As a writer, I know that what I want is for people to read my work and feel the time was well spent. Not all people or even most. Some people, and if it’s enough people to allow me to continue writing, then I’m more than happy. If, like Moby Dick, the sales come much later – well, that’s Ok too.

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