So agents and editors have the notorious slush pile while writers have the drawer or shoe box full of rejections. Actually mine are in a folder; the hard copies, that is. There are plenty more that are archived in my email, and it's hard to collect the ringing silences that are most rejections today. My friend Debbie posted on her blog on Monday, “How do you react when you hear 'no'? Have you heard it yet? Is it time to start accumulating some rejections?” Well, this question seemed very timely for me, so here's your answer, Debbie.
I first started trying to get my books published when I was nineteen, many years ago now, so I'm pretty familiar with rejections. I had no idea what I was doing, and I made lots of rookie mistakes. I just wanted to get the novel that I'd slaved over for five years out into the world. It's like launching a ship. You smash that bottle over the prow and let it slide down into the water, hoping and praying that it will float, that it will glide majestically out of the harbor on its maiden voyage.
Let's just say, my ship sprung a leak. It's lying on the bottom of the harbor, making a nice home for fish. But that first rejection was like a badge of honor. I was a writer. I had a letter from a publisher that said so. Actually, it said, “Thank you for your submission. We do not feel it is right for us at this time,” but same thing, right?
Now that I've been doing this for years, it gets harder and harder to hear 'no'. I feel like my work is the best it's ever been, and if that's not enough, then maybe I'm just not cut out for this business. I know that's not true, but it's so easy to believe the lie.
After months (years if you count writing the book) of preparation, I sent Kristin Nelson my first thirty pages. A week ago, I got her reply. Since this is a post about rejections, you've probably already guessed she said 'no'. It wasn't devastating, but there was that flash of disappointment and descent into self-doubt. This was my best work and she said 'no'. What now?
Sending your work out into the world is scary, whether it's to a publisher, an agent, or even just a critique partner. As writers, we wear our hearts on our sleeves. We bare our deepest selves right there on the page. With experience we develop a thick skin, a coat of armor.
But every rejection, every 'no' tries to poke a hole in it. When my first 'no' came back, it stung, but I shook it off, saying that wasn't so bad. But then one 'no' becomes ten, and then fifty, and then I realize I've exhausted my whole list of possible agents and editors. What now? How long can I keep doing this before my armor is so riddled with holes, it falls apart? When do I give up on my dream and decide to self-publish?
It's at this point that I have to step back and remember why I write. Yes, my dream is to one day see my name on a book cover. Yes, I want my stories to touch people's lives and change them for the better. I know I'm not the only one who feels these things, but the world isn't going to notice if my book never appears on a shelf in Barnes and Noble. I didn't start writing because I had narcissistic desire to see my name in print or because I had a message to get across. I started writing because I had stories in my head. I kept writing because I realized I loved it. I can't stop putting words on a page anymore than I can stop reading (it's been tried, the result was fugly). If someone was to say, “I can see the future, and you will never be published”, would I stop writing? Hell, no.
So I guess that's my answer. What now? I'll keep writing. I'll keep putting words on the page, keep telling my stories if only to myself (and my sisters who never get tired of hearing them). When I've exhausted my list of agents and editors, I'll send out the next book. I'll keep working, keep making them better. And I'll keep collecting the rejections. Maybe I'll make a collage.