Any writer who believes s/he can go from “aspiring to published” writer without experiencing the bitter sting of rejection is in for a shock. Whether you want to be published the traditional way or go the indie route, rejection is part of the journey, whether it means being unable to get past “the gatekeepers” or a reader “advising” others on social media to actually stay away from your work!
So, as we’ve established: rejection hurts and it’s going to happen, regardless of how brilliant a writer you are. Even the greats remember their first rejection letters and even still get rejected from time to time. The key is knowing how to deal with it, so here are my steps on turning rejection into a positive, rather than negative, experience:
1) Walk Away
Just been rejected? Don’t obsess over it, reading the email or letter over and over. Do something else to take your mind off it – ANYTHING. Outline a new project; go for a walk; eat some chocolate; phone a friend. Whatever works for you (bar airing your grievances online on social media!). All that matters at the moment is the decision is in and it’s a negative. So give yourself some time to process the disappointment and calm down, before you do anything else.
2) Read between the lines
No feedback other than a “thanks, but no thanks”? Then the journey is over for that opportunity. There’s absolutely no point second guessing what could have “gone wrong” … Maybe nothing did, it just so happens it wasn’t “right” either. That can happen. As a reader for literary agents and competitions, I have seen this happen to LOTS of great writing. That does NOT mean your submission was automatically crap. So chalk it up – THIS TIME – and move on. Don’t dwell.
You have some feedback? Don’t ignore it. Remember, all industry pros are mega busy, so if they have taken the time to give you some feedback, they must have found your submission notable *in some way* and there’s a strong chance they want to help you be more successful “next time”. Honest guv! Now how this works may depend, so this is where as writers we need to really read between the lines:
i) Your feedback seems really negative. If the industry pro seems harsh or negative about your work, talking about the concept behind it or the characters being clichéd, “tropey” or familiar, take note. This is a clue that the industry pro has seen ideas or writing *like* yours A LOT. Obviously in this crowded marketplace that’s not a good thing, because your writing needs to stand out. So what can you do to make your concept, characters or writing more UNUSUAL? Do some research re: your target audience and what has gone before already, don’t just trust to instinct.
ii) Your feedback seems really positive. Somewhat ironically, my Bang2writers often find positive feedback in rejections even MORE confusing: if that industry pro likes their characters, themes, prose or whatever, why did they reject the work?? The answer to this is simple. The person rejecting the work LIKED IT, but felt the writer in question was “not ready”. The reasons for this may be varied, but if they’re mentioning those things they liked about your work or style because they want to ENCOURAGE you. So don’t ignore good feedback! Keep doing what you’re doing – and look to those elements they *haven’t* mentioned, because that’s PROBABLY what needs work so you can be “ready” next time.
iii) The feedback mentions specific elements. If your feedback seems quite neutral, but mentions stuff like character motivation, their arcs or dialogue, or the basics like spelling, punctuation etc, again: take note. This is a clue you need to work on these as a matter of urgency. Sometimes feedback-givers mention other books, authors, or writing sites to visit: again, make sure you look at them, since the feedback-giver is most likely trying to help you in some way.
3) Remember this is YOUR work, no one else’s
The most important element however of dealing with rejection is remembering YOU are the authority on your own work. If you have developed and edited your work and know who your target audience is, then you will be able to recognise feedback with an agenda, or those feedback-givers who simply “don’t get” what you’re trying to do, because that will ALWAYS happen! So keep the faith and reject the rejections in your mind when this happens and – you guessed it – move on!
This article was first published at Author Essentials on 20th June, 2014.
About Lucy V. Hay
Lucy V. Hay is the author of The Decision Book Series and is a script editor and blogger who helps writers via her Bang2write consultancy. Find free writing articles, resources, downloads, podcasts and more HERE and ask her your writing, publishing and social media questions via Twitter, Facebook & Ask.FM.