The writing community is as creatively diverse as communities come. We’re discovery writers and outliners who make flowery prose or sentences so sharp n’ short they’re daggers. That’s not even getting into genre, voice or audience. But if I were tasked to find one thing that connects us all, I’d point to the uncanny way writers struggle with rejection when really, we should love it. You might have noticed that this article is posted on April first, but I assure you it’s no joke. If you’re a writer, indie or traditional, I think you should want rejection too.
Let me tell you why.
Woah now, hold on, I can smell the boiling tar—put down your chicken feathers. Maybe I started too fast. If we trust the cliché that writing a book is like having a baby, then rejection is the labor pains. As a mother of five, one thing I find hilarious is child-birthing advice from someone who’s never been pregnant. So, hi! I’m Winter Krane, a rejected, unemployed writer. You’ve never heard of me because I have no platform, no paycheck, and no readers waiting on edge for my next novel. My kids are frustrated that mama’s busy typing, my husband lives like a weekend widower because I’m working, and all I can show for it is a nail above my desk where my rejections hang.
So, if you deem me qualified to talk about rejection, we’ll continue.
Why should we love it?
If the sole reason you’re writing a book is to cross it off your bucket list, then maybe rejection isn’t for you. Feel free to carry on and ignore me. Then again, if you’re serious about publication you’re already aware that rejection is inevitable. Yes, it hurts. Yes, we should be concerned about the mental health of writers. Yes, yes, yes, we need encouragement and support—all important stuff. However, one thing I don’t see enough is praise for the process. Rejection is the writer’s workout. Here’s a chance to strengthen wimpy muscles, level up our skills. We’re in training, working toward shredded writing skills. I’m all for an affirmation-doughnut, but that’s not going to fuel our progress. Maybe there are easier ways to improve for other careers, but writing is so subjective that it’s hard to find a direct growth path. Knowing your writing didn’t work for someone? That’s concrete. It can be difficult to troubleshoot why, what, and if you have something to fix, but it’s a starting place. We can’t begin to make those choices without a big old “NO,” to stand on. The more No’s we pile up, the taller our hill of perspective.
Not sold? I submit to the rejection skeptics, one Gregory Austin McConnell and his year-long quest to erase his published book that, sadly, wasn’t rejected.
In 2009, McConnell won a writing competition. Now, this wasn’t an average writing competition. It was created by creative writing teachers trying to ‘help’ young writers. What could be a better jumpstart then a book deal? Not a print on demand deal, a book readily available on store shelves. At the tender age of nineteen McConnell was a published author. I don’t know about you, but my inner nineteen-year-old is drooling. Trouble is, nineteen-year-old me was an idiot. McConnell’s book turned out to be cringeworthy. “Hey now,” you might be saying. “There’s no shame in a bad first book.” I wholeheartedly agree—unless that book gets published, and it’s the top result for googling your name. That’s what happened to McConnell. I won’t give spoilers on how far he went to murder his own book and clear his name, I’ll just link the video with a strong recommendation that you watch it.
“I knew that already,” say the skeptics. “That’s why we need feedback. That doesn’t mean I have to be masochistic!”
“Okay, cool,” I say. “Well, this has been lovely. I’m going to get back to gathering my own rejections.” But before I can make it to my desk, there’s a hand on my collar dragging me back.
“You said I should love rejection!” they ever so politely remind me. “Is this clickbait?”
Book parents can be a little cranky, but who can blame them? After all the excitement and stress about the creation they’re gestating, I’m praising their impending pain. So, let’s do some nesting and make plans for this kid...once the skeptics let go of my neck that is—I’m starting to chafe.
We hate rejection for all the wrong reasons.
I don’t think the struggle with rejection comes from debating if we need it. It’s about authors connecting their manuscript with their self-worth, as if our right to the world’s oxygen supply is stapled to the back of each document. Allow me to caps lock yell: YOU ARE SO MUCH MORE THAN YOUR WRITING! Seriously. How do I know? Because I’ve given feedback to writers. I’ve told my critique partners they should cut entire chapters because they were dead in the water. I’m the jerk who’s handed over the bad news for plots that resembled swiss cheese. Never once did I think “I don’t like this story; thus, the entire sum of this author’s existence is meaningless.” If someone thought that way it’d reflect on them, not you.
The people rejecting our work tend to be empathetic, but I can see why that’s hard to believe. Spend any time on a blog, like Query Shark, and you’re sure to see writer blood in the water. Reading through her archives, (a task I recommend to anyone seeking traditional publishing), is a masterclass on rejection. Even with all the soul-crushing going on, if you look a little closer, you’ll find Janet Reid (the shark herself) isn’t as bloodthirsty as she seems. Allow me to quote her, from her blog, bottom of archive 321:
“It takes a long time to write something all your own. It’s not a character flaw or failure if it doesn’t work. It’s a step on the writing path. Every single writer learns how to do this exactly the way you are: by doing.”
Even the Shark respects our failures! Why don’t we? Do we care so little about our baby?
Ah, the skeptics are back...with pitchforks! “What about self-publishing?” they demand. “You were talking about getting rejections. That’s the traditional route.”
Remember all that diversity I mentioned before? Same thing here. I would argue that traditional writers have a clearer path to get rejected. All those publishing gatekeepers, (agents, editors, publishing houses) they ensure more rejections. But Self-publishing is a career path, NOT (as your annoying aunt Mable assumes) a backup plan for writers who can’t pass. A large portion of that work is seeking out their own rejections: beta readers, developmental editors, copyeditors. All writers should be collecting early rejections, so we don’t get late rejections, from our readers. I have a deep respect for indie authors and the work they commit themselves too. What a long road to walk alone if there wasn’t fulfillment in the process. No matter how we choose to publish, those of us who siphon our strength from rejection have an unending supply of possibilities.
Okay, but let’s be real. Positivity might be the right attitude, but sometimes that doesn’t mean much. Putting it into practice is an entirely different thing. I get that. As my next novel is nearing completion the rejection circuit looms overhead, ready for me to eat my own words.
Here's my survival guide:
1. Set the tone for your rejection. It's natural to want to hide under the covers- but instead, when I get rejected, I choose to show it off to my kids. Why? Because they’re going to experience failure too, writers or not. I never want them to be ashamed of it. And why should I be? I just accomplished one more defeat on the road to success! I’m not advocating to ignore our feelings- cry if you need to, that’s okay, I get it. Love isn’t always bliss. Our relationship with rejection is allowed to be messy, as long as we control our response.
2. Make rejection an achievement. We’re writers! We know how unsatisfying a story is if our characters get what they want right away. Your battle scars are inspiring- wear them with pride! Remember that rejection nail above my desk? I got the idea from Stephen King's book On Writing where King talked about his nail of rejection. Only my nail is painted rose-gold and each rejection is printed on iridescent paper. They sparkle. Crazy? Yes. Do I care? No. I earned them.
3. Consider rewarding your rejections. Each one earning points toward a personal prize. The worst rejections are the silent ones—so make those worth double! You could choose anything. I’ve heard of people using chocolate or wine, but my rejections would end up creating a lifestyle issue if I went that rout. What if you earn yourself new books? (Used books, if you’re unemployed like me.) Or what about a point structure that earns you a reward? Maybe add a dollar in a jar for each one. Whatever you do, pick something that you can proudly enjoy- your badge of honor. Whatever it takes to make you want to put yourself out there more!
So, please, stand with me and get excited about rejection. They’re our stepping stones to a YES, and after all this heavy lifting, that affirmation-doughnut is going to be mighty tasty.
Blog and artwork created by Winter Krane.
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