You’ve just poured your heart and soul into writing a book. You got to the computer every day, you suffered your inner critic nagging in your ear and you finished what you started. Seeing the completed manuscript is exciting and satisfying – until you start sending
it out to agents and publishers and getting rejected. Holding onto your self-esteem is extremely challenging during this process, but we have to learn how to do it because that is a large part of being an artist..
I know a highly respected poetry teacher who encourages his students to submit their material to as many publications as possible. “It’s not about acceptance or getting published,” he says. “I want them to get used to being rejected.”
When I was trying to get an agent for my first non-fiction book about the Philippine healers, one nasty agent stands out. She called me and yelled into the phone, “Your topic is not believable and your writing is unsophisticated. Why on earth did you write
this? Everybody thinks they’ve written a bestseller.”
“We have to believe in ourselves,” I said. “How else can we keep writing?”
I hung up the phone and climbed into bed. I spent a day feeling sorry for myself and the next morning, I got up and kept on going. After several years of getting form letters or not hearing back at all, I finally got a deal with a major publisher. I submitted another
book in the late eighties about the agony of losing my friends to the AIDS virus and I and an agent told me, “Your book is a little odd. If you changed AIDS to cancer, that would make it much better.”
Some of them just don’t know what they’re talking about. Writer Barbara Kingsolver said, Don’t consider your precious manuscript rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it “to the editor who can appreciate my work” and it has come back stamped ‘Not at this address.’ Keep looking for the right address.
Being sidelined by someone else is painful but there’s nothing you can do about it. Rejecting yourself is excruciating, but you can do something about that. You can give yourself a break. It’s just so easy to judge your work and stash it away. Celebrated author, Isaac Asimov said, “Never let a manuscript do nothing but eat it’s head
off in a drawer.” You have to be your best ally and refuse to stop sending out your work. You just never know how things will end up.
Rejection occurs in so many areas of our lives. Have you ever been to a high school reunion where the kids who were popular and gorgeous look ordinary and the outcasts have ripened into
extraordinary beauties and successful business people? Supermodels talk about how awkward they felt in school. They were tall and skinny and they were bullied. They felt like misfits, they hid in the shadows in the schoolyard, but eventually, they grew into strikingly beautiful people, wealthy and sought after. If you value what you wrote and give it a chance to grow, you just might be able to watch your ugly duckling transform into a graceful swan as it makes its way out into the world.
When he began writing, Stephen King was a janitor, a gas pump attendant, and a worker at an industrial laundry. In his book, “On Writing,” he said that he pinned every rejection letter he received to his wall with a nail. “By the time I was fourteen, the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the letters so I replaced it with a spike and went on writing.”
His first novel, Carrie, was turned down by thirty publishers. He was living in a trailer with his wife and two kids at the time, and he was so discouraged, he threw the manuscript into the trash. Luckily for him, his wife, Tabitha, retrieved the book and encouraged him to keep working on it. Publisher number thirty-one gave him a book deal and we know what happened after that.
My sister sent me a book of rejections and bad reviews. These are a few of them:
Vladimir Nabokov who wrote Lolita, got the following letter:
“. . . Overwhelmingly
nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian . . . the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy. It often becomes a wild neurotic day dream . . . I recommend it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.”
Louis L’Amour’s first novel was rejected 200 times before a publisher took a chance. When he died in 1988, he had sold three hundred thousand books.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter was rejected so many times, she decided to self-publish. It has sold 45 million copies to date.
Mystery writer, Agatha Christie, got turned down for five years before she found a publisher for her first book. Her subsequent books went on to sell in excess of two billion copies.
One of the most surprising of all was J. K. Rowling who wrote the Harry Potter series. She was rejected by twelve publishers and now, she makes between fifty and a hundred million dollars a year.
The above examples are extreme, it’s slim odds that any of us will enjoy that kind of success. No matter how good the writing or how compelling the plot, no one knows what will get under a reader’s skin. But if you give up, there’s no chance of finding any kind of
success. While you’re trying to find a home for your book, celebrate your wins, no matter how small, be kind to yourself and become your own cheerleader. As annoying it may be to hear this, the reward has to be in the doing. If your writing hits the mark, that’s great. If it doesn’t, if you got into the writing zone and expressed your thoughts and feelings, that can make you happy, no matter what happens next.