Sunday, April 11, 2010

Rejection: motivator or morale breaker?

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Rejection well and truly sucks. Yep. No matter how experienced you are at this part of the writing process, hearing “No, thanks” or the dreaded “I’m not passionate about the project” stings. I have lots of those kiss-offs sitting in my drawers and somewhere on my hard drive. How about you?

As a professional actress/singer, I have received lots of rejections. (Lots is actually a serious understatement, but you get the point.) Yes, I’m a complete masochist in my career choices. I’ve been an actress, singer, model and now a writer. If there is a career field riddled with rejection, I’ve taken a stroll across it. That bizarre choice has sort of made me an expert in getting rejected. Which is good. Rejection exists at every level of the writing business. You have to develop a thick skin because rejection is never going to go away. Unpublished authors and published authors alike face rejections. Shall we count the ways?

1) The Great Agent Search: This quest for an agent often lands most authors the largest number of rejections because there are a lot more agents who accept unsolicited queries. The saying “finding an editor is easier than finding an agent” is often true. Of course, most editors don’t take unsolicited manuscripts so that door can be closed without an agent. A total Catch-22. Sigh!
2) The Even Greater Editor Search: Once you’ve scored an agent, or you submit to an editor that doesn’t require the agent connection, there are more rejections.
3) The Reviews: The grass always looks greener on published side, but published authors can get rejected over an over again on a published book. Be it major review publications or reader opinions on, reviews can be huge morale killers. I faced these as a performer and am already chewing my nails off in anticipation of the reviews on my first published work….and that is still five months away.
4) The “This isn’t your best work” or “We are going in a different direction” Rejection: Published authors often get these lines from their editors or agents who have in the past loved their writing. Yeah…these really sting.

And that is just the tip of the rejection iceberg. Have I depressed you yet?

Unfortunately, the rejection in the publishing industry is real and often very painful. But I’ll tell you a couple of secrets. The rejections can be great motivators to prove the naysayers wrong. I found that each rejection made me more determined to improve my writing and submit my best work and I became a much stronger writer as a result.

Rejection secret number two: often the rejection you receive isn’t even about you. If you are busy querying agents, I’m guessing that your ‘dream’ agents are the ones representing the big names in your genre. They have deals listed in Publishers Marketplace every week. They are awesome. They are also not looking for new clients…not really. Sure, they take queries from new authors and say they are looking. They might sign one new client a year. Often they don’t sign any. So they are looking for you to be a writer that they just can’t turn away for any reason…and they are going to look for reasons. Executive editors – same story. Sometimes the low person on the totem pole, who doesn’t have the flashy author, is the one you need to be querying. Even then, sometimes you just don’t have the marketing hook. You can’t help those things. All you can do is write the best book you can and wait for the stars to align.

And not to depress you further, but that alignment might take years upon years to happen. If you are going to survive in this subjective business, you have to learn to roll with the punches. And when the rejection is starting to get to you – bump off a character in particularly compelling and gruesome way. It’s cheaper than a therapist. Trust me. That’s what I do.


Anonymous said...


Wow - you're 4 for 4 on careers that have some level of ongoing rejection built in! Which makes you exceptionally qualified to write this post :)

Nearly every career has a balance of good stuff and dodgy bits. Writers get a high level of autonomy, creativity, and flexibility. And...rejection. Some weeks lots of it. (I agree - those weeks are a perfect time to knock someone off on the page).

Thanks for providing your perpective on the topic!

Deb G.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Great post~I am crazy enough to keep every rejection I've ever gotten. I use it to understand trends and what works for who and what doesn't. Um, yes, I've been called a nut for doing it. ;)

Kathleen A. Ryan said...

Thanks for the great post, Joelle. It's something we as writers all experience. It absolutely hurts when it happens, but you become more determined, I believe. Perseverance has to become your best friend!
I look forward to your book in the fall ~ and I'm sure it will be extremely well-received!

Barbara Monajem said...

I started out filing my rejections, but I've gradually lost track of them. They're not very interesting. Or memorable.

Well, except for a few that were particularly disappointing, but those are the breaks.

Looking forward to your book!

John McFetridge said...

Last year I had my first experience on the other side of the table, sitting in on auditions for the TV show I worked on and the thing that struck me the most was that so many of the actors were so good. I was so glad I didn't have to make the decision.

That 'alignment' thing is a great way to look at it. Everything has to be the right fit.

Judith Keim said...

I have to say I've gone from thinking it was me to finding out exactly why my writing received it. Not to say I haven't cried along the way, but, like you, I've become to use that info to make my writing stronger! And one bone-crunching occupation is enough for me! LOL Thanks for the post

Judith Keim said...

EEEk...mistyped. Become should be begun...

Dana King said...

I'm with you, Joelle. I, too, was a musician, though I skipped acting and modeling for reasons to anyone who has met me.

One thing I always thought was easier about writing was once you had the writing how you wanted it, it would stay exactly like that until you chose to change it. Musicians have good days and bad days. It doesn't matter how good it sounded in the practice room if the audition isn't up to snuff.

Writers also don;t get told they're not wanted right to their faces. I've had plenty of written rejections, and, yes, they suck. They're still better than hearing "Thank you, next," and having to pack up your stuff, walk past everyone still in the running, and drive or fly home.

Actors and models are also prone to these, so no whining, writers.

Mary Marvella said...

I found rejections whe I was looking for teaching jobs. Several principals actually said they hired someone with more experience. Well, my application stated my age, duh! The real reason? For each of those rejections, I heard words like, "You look young to be a teacher." Read "too young for us to hire." That was many years ago and it was VERY personal.

Today it feels as though editors and agents are really saying our babies are ugly and we dress them funny.

I try to remember, not THAT manuscript, THAT day, with THAT editor or THAT agent.

Yeah, right! And I fly over the city at night and destroy armies with my bare hands, too.

Mary Ricksen said...

You have the strength you need to be a success. I think that's what it is, inner strength when naysayers surround you. The strength to prove them wrong, to make your mark, to publish that story!...It's what makes you a writer and always the success you are Joelle.
It's all in your head.

Nightingale said...

Wow, Joelle. Instead of 'depressing' me about rejection, I feel I might survive in this business after all. Thanks!

Chuck said...

I think of rejection as battle scars. The writer must Be Like Viking, and wear those scars as badges of honor.

The only way to prove you're out there in the mud and the blood fighting the fight is to show off your scars. Writers compare rejection letters like Martin Riggs showing off his bullet wounds.

They sting, but they're evidence that you're doing what needs doing.

-- c.

Travener said...

Well, that was uplifting...not.

Joanne Young Elliott said...

After reading Steve's post I had to come here. You've got some great insights, too. I'm working on a novel and nervous about getting my work out there, but reading this and Steve's post has convinced me that I can do it. I love writing for the sake of writing, but I also want people to read my work...and some won't like it...and some will. That's life.
Thanks for posting this and inspiring all this great discussion.

Blythe Gifford said...

Add to that the readers who say "I liked THIS book better than your new one." Keeping your equilibrium in this business is part of keeping your 'job.'