We’ve all heard the stories. There’s the girl who sends out her first batch of queries, only to get an immediate deluge of full requests and wake up the next morning with eight offers of representation waiting in her inbox. Or the debut author who goes on submission, only to find himself fending off several six-figure, multi-book, preempt offers the following week.
Well, here’s Reality Check #1: That’s not going to be you. (Ok, I guess if you play the odds, it might be, but I’d posit you have a better chance of getting struck by lightning. Just saying.)
Oh, please don’t look at me like that. It’s not going to be me either. As much as my ego (and my mom) likes to tell me I’m the greatest thing to happen to the publishing industry since forever, my journey to publication has been long and winding, and pretty typical of what most writers experience. I received form rejections to my query. Dozens of them. I got partial and full requests, only to then get form rejections on those. After months of ups and downs, I signed with an agent … only to have my first book fail to sell. There’s been heartbreak and insecurity and even some anger, but along the way I realized I’ve learned a lot from the harsh realities of this business.
Reality Check #2: It is possible for an agent or editor to love your book and not offer you a contract. Maybe you write in a genre that’s already saturated the market. Or maybe your book is just a tad too commercial for an editor looking to build a more literary list. You can very well find yourself reading a rejection letter that reads something like, “I really enjoyed this … but I’m not buying it.”
Lesson learned: Publishing is a business, just like any other. When an agent or editor rejects your work, it’s really not personal. Most of the time, it doesn’t even have anything to do with you. It has to do with trends and sales figures and market projections. Sometimes you’re caught in the middle of that, and, while it hurts, you can take comfort in the fact it’s the way of the business, not you.
Reality Check #3: Rejection letters can be blunt. As much as an agent or editor might try to let you down softly, you probably will feel the sting of words like “weak,” “nonsensical” or even “failure.” It will make you feel like you are a terrible writer and you can’t imagine why you ever thought otherwise.
Lesson learned: Once you get over the initial shock of a harsh “no,” you can cull through rejection letters and pull out nuggets of wisdom. My rejection letters for my first book were sort of all over the place, but when I looked back through them as a whole, there were a couple themes that kept cropping up. A main character who needed more strength, a setting that needed more richness. You can bet that I focused on those weaknesses when writing my second book, only to now find them praised as strengths. Every book—every rejection—is a learning opportunity, if you choose to see it that way.
Reality Check #4: If you cannot accept rejection, you will never make it in this business. This one might be the harshest of all, but I also think it holds the most truth. Even if you beat the odds and land a great publishing contract, there’s no guarantee the critics will love you. Or that readers will buy your book. And you’re pretty much certain to have a bunch of scathing, one-star Goodreads reviews waiting for you in the future. So really, rejection never stops.
Lesson learned: Rejection is good for you. Yes, I said good for you. You need thick skin to be a writer, because if you buckle under the pressure and talk of throwing in the towel, you’re never going to make it. (And that’s true of all things, not just writing). So keep your head up. I mean, go ahead and have a good cry once in a while or get together with fellow writer friends and complain. But then leave all the baggage behind and push through. Refuse to take no for an answer. Visualize success. And above all, keep writing.
And it’s thanks to Meredith that I’ve managed to wind up where I am today—she was one of my first crit partners and writing friends. To celebrate that, she’s giving away an ARC of Something Strange and Deadly.
All you have to do to enter is leave a comment telling us how YOU deal with rejection, and we’ll pick a winner next week!
MEREDITH MCCARDLE worked as an attorney for many years before she decided to follow her heart and give full-time writing a try. She’s represented by Rubin Pfeffer of East/West Literary and lives in South Florida with her husband and daughter. You can learn more about her on her website or on Twitter.