Rejection isn’t pretty. You can present it however you like, call it nice names and spray it with perfume, but it never gets any easier. Or, as my Grandpappy used to say “You can dress a pig like a swan, but it’s still going to taste like bacon.”
Now, my Grandpappy was a great man (used to make the Rocky Mountain Oysters fresh off the bull, which is something you do not want to see), but with all due respect to my elders, he can take his advice and shove it. Sometimes a pig can taste like a swan.
And sometimes rejection can sting in a good way.
Here are nine ways you can make rejection taste like sweet, succulent swan:
1. Merit Badges
Last week I discussed a couple of ways you know you’re a writer, and one of the things I mentioned were Merit Badges. I love Merit Badges, because you usually get them for crap you already know but need to feel special about. Like eating your broccoli, or avoiding the clap.
But I’d like to think that Writer Merit Badges are something else. Something special. Something earned, fought for and paid for with the blood of your fallen World of Warcraft enemies.
And rejection in the queen bitch of Merit Badges.
It’s something every writer has endured. A mark of pride, honor, a badge you can show off to your children (or the totems of idea-babies sitting on your desk). Writers get rejected like Paris Hilton gets herpes. It’s going to happen, so start preparing, take your antibiotics, and toughen up.
And, you know, maybe stay away from B-List Celebrities. Just sayin’.
2. Free Revision
You know how much a good editor costs? It’s more than a pack of Magic: The Gathering cards, I can tell you that. How about a good critique group? Pshhaw, I’m a writer, I don’t socialize with other people. Beta Readers? Umm…does my mom count?
Hey, sometimes it’s freaking hard to get decent feedback for your story. So, you know what? Instead of looking at rejection as a personal attack or a denial of your special writer spark that makes you so much better than everyone else, and eventually Kevin Gardner from second-grade is going to see how good a writer you are, even though he said your story about Space Worms from Dimension Thirteen was worse than the third Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and…uhm…what was I talking…
Oh! Right. Rejection.
If you’re lucky enough to get a rejection letter with some honest-to-goodness feedback on it, treat that shiz like Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket. Because the agent/editor/sister-in-law who sent the feedback actually took time to read your story, note what’s wrong, and tell you. Folks, that doesn’t happen often.
Take the good feedback where you can, and if you’re not feeling like a beligerant ass that day send the agent a thank you note. Just a few words letting them know you appreciate the feedback. It’s something decent human beings do, and you never know, maybe that agent has a friend who’s going to read your manuscript someday.
A kind word can go a long way.
3. Where the Greats Have Gone Before
Let me throw a few stats at’cha:
J.K Rowling was rejected by a dozen publishers before she sold the first Harry Potter novel.
Stephen King received thirty rejections before he published his first book, Carrie.
C.S. Lewis (I love this one) faced rejection over 800 times before he sold a single piece of writing!
I could populate a hundred posts with nothing but lists of famous authors rejected repeatedly before selling their first, second, or sometimes twelfth novel. I’ve already said that rejection is a mark of honor, but it’s also a tradition. A way to compare yourself with the greats. A chance to walk a mile in Stephen King’s
Anyone who has written something great has faced rejection on numerous occasions. Someday you will be able to add yourself to that list.
4. Spruce Up That Office Space
And speaking of Stephen King…
There’s a great story in his legendary book, On Writing, discussing how he dealt with rejection. In King’s case, he would meticulously collect every rejection letter, smooth them out and hang them from a spike nailed into his bedroom wall. He would look at them every day and remind himself of what he was doing, what he was trying to accomplish.
The lesson is your rejection letters shouldn’t be stashed away, hidden in some drawer buried next to the dead hooker from that Vegas Publishing Expo (Hey, what happens at a Publishing Expo…right?). They should be proudly displayed, preened, admired from your leather chair as you type away on your next novel, a smile on your face as you imagine how it’ll feel when you finally get that letter of acceptance.
And if nothing else, those letters make a great dart board.
5. War Stories
Rejection can be a mark of pride, a reminder of what you’re trying to accomplish, or just some nice wall art. But what it can also be is a great story. And when it comes time to sit down with some writers at a friendly game of strip poker, you can’t be the only one without a story.
They don’t have to all be winners (“I remember back in ’09 I was working on this real piece of work. Sent it out to an agent and got a still beating human heart Fed Exed the following week.”) but you should be able to nod in sympathy when a fellow wordsmith is lamenting his latest form rejection.
And if you’ve never been rejected? If you have no experience from which to empathize? If all your poop comes out gold-plated and covered in mithril?
Well, hell, I’ll still hang with you. I’ve always wanted some mithril.
6. The Seething Fire That Feeds Ambition
Do an experiment for me real quick, k? Reach deep down past your gut, your large intestine, your small, your bowels, the burrito you shouldn’t have eaten on Monday, and find the squirming little bastard that makes you wake up in the morning.
No, not gas, the other squirming bastard.
Ok, got him? Great. Now get acquainted, because that jabbering, poking, squirmy little dude’s called your ambition, and he loves to eat. All the time.
You can feed him with high-fives, speeches from Rudy, and pep-talks from your mom, but you know what’ll trump all that? What the little guy loves to nosh more than anything else? Yeah, you can probably guess (because of the title of the blog, and all that).
Ambition loves rejection. Love it. Loooooooves it.
Nothing will get your fire going like a nice piece of “You can’t do it.” That stuff works every time, because once you get over the sinking feeling in your gut (that’s the opposite of ambition. It’s called self-pity and it has no place in writing. Or Rudy) and get angry, you’re going to hit your keyboard like a schnauzer on epinephrine.
You may not produce the greatest work, but damn if it doesn’t feel good. And sometimes that’s enough.
7. Learn How to Reject the Proper Way (Or Not)
One of my favorite things about the publishing world is that everything is cyclical. Which means that someday you’re going to be the one sending out the rejection letters.
Now, I’m not saying you’re going to become an agent, but if you stay in the writing game long enough eventually people are going to ask you for something. Requests to read manuscripts, invitations to sit on convention panels, petitions for your social security number (What? They said they needed it for my byline), and as much as you want to say yes to everything, eventually you’ll have to say no.
You’ll have to reject them.
Yay! Now you’re in the driver seat. You can fulfill those fantasies of crushing someone’s dream the same way you were crushed by that dumb agent who rejected you two years ago. She obviously didn’t know that Space Worms from Dimension Thirteen were the next big thing.
Only, she was pretty nice in that rejection. She treated you like a human being, gave you a little feedback (turns out Space Worms played better in Young Adult. Who knew?), and encouraged you to try again in the future.
The point? When you get a rejection letter that is courteous and polite, learn from it, then pay it forward when the time comes.
8. Without Misery What Would We Write?
Boy, is there anything writers love more than a nice, hot bucket of misery in the morning? Not the misery of others, of course, we’re not monsters (we just write about them). I’m talking self misery.
Misery fuels authors like Red Bull and Vodkas fuel Lindsay Lohan. We love that stuff. We thrive on it. And the messed up part, sometimes we go looking for it.
Turns out we don’t have to look far, because the next rejection letter is just an agent away. That means a fresh batch of feeling sorry for ourselves is on the way, and that means writing! Sure, we can write without it. We don’t require misery to hit the keyboard, but sometimes it just…it just…well, dammit, it just feels nice.
So turn that rejection into something productive. Let it fuel your spark of self-pity. And when you’re done, go take a walk in the sunshine. You can’t be miserable all the time.
9. If All Else Fails, Go It Alone
So you’ve been rejected. A bunch. And while it’s nice to know that C.S. Lewis had to deal with rejection eight hundred times, maybe you’ve hit the end of your rope. Maybe it’s time to self-publish.
See, we have to remember that rejection is ultimately one person sitting in an office with a big rubber stamp saying your work won’t sell. One. Person. And even though that person is an “expert” in the industry, and it’s their job to figure out what sells, there are plenty of times they’re wrong.
Like, 50 Shades of Wrong.
So, how do you know when it’s time to self-publish? Well, take a look at those rejection letters. Did you get thirty form rejections? Umm, yeah, probably something wrong with your novel, old son. Better hit those beta-readers. If you didn’t get form rejections, if your letters are full of praise but tell you things like your story won’t sell in the current market, it’s too long, it’s difficult to summarize, Space Worms have already been done, well…those are cues that self-pubbing might be the way to go.
And when your self-published novel goes the way of Amanda Hocking and sells a million copies, give me a holler and we’ll go out for a beer. While we’re there we can swap some war stories.