Friday, September 7, 2012

Handling the Rejection Blues

I've heard that negative comments have about seven times as much power as a positive comment. As a teacher, I know that I need to do a "critique sandwich"- one positive comment on either side of a negative one. We feel negative things more intensely- and take them more personally- than we do positive things.

This is especially true of querying. It's hard, discouraging work, with more ups and downs than most people can imagine. We feel rejection intensely. Someone said no, and it's hard to hear- even though we know agents can only take on projects they love, think they can sell, and are willing to risk their income on. All the reasons aside, someone still said no. Some days I handle it better than others. I can tell myself all sorts of things about how many famous authors had X number of rejections, how long it usually takes to get an agent, and how I've really only queried a small percentage of what's average- but those rejections pile up. It's not a huge pile- but it feels like one.

What rejection feels like is important. It feels like no one is interested in the story I've poured my blood and love into, it feels like "the call" will never happen, and it feels I'll be trying forever but nothing will happen.


Remember those are just feelings. They are a normal part of the process. Every writer feels them. Writers have to be able to take rejection, try harder, persevere longer, and keep going. I read somewhere that getting into the publishing industry isn't difficult to keep you out- it's difficult to see if you can get in. It's obviously more complex than that, but it's an interesting thought. It's not a wall, it's a hurdle. So keep training.

Continuing on when you're feeling those rejections is hard. Even normal efforts can be draining when you're discouraged. A lot of people just quit at that point- way before they should. But don't quit. Use those feelings to make yourself a better writer. (Using real life to improve your writing is a very writerly thing to do.) Here's what I try to do:

  • Recognize the feelings are normal. Almost every writer has gone through the rejection blues. It's not a sign from the universe that you can't do this. It's expected.
  • Allow yourself some time to wallow- but just a little. Call in sick for a day if you need to, but don't quit the job. Recognize that it's discouraging, that it's hard, and that it makes you worry. Admit it to get it out in the open.
  • Use those negative feelings to push yourself. Writers push themselves a lot already in a hundred ways- but when I'm feeling those rejections, I have to remind myself that writing is a job. I have to work when I don't want to. I have to do things that are boring and frustrating and discouraging. If I'm serious about being a writer, I have to keep doing it.
  • Get back to work- but don't just slog through feeling like your writing is worthless. I can never keep going if I am functioning like that. Make a plan for dealing with rejection.  
My rejection plan has a few items involved. A critique partner to cry on is a must. They get it like no one else. As supportive as my husband is, he hasn't been there. After wallowing, I pick up a great new book to read. I try to save one that I've been dying to read. John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo I highly recommend for this purpose. They helped me discover again what I love about writing, and definitely inspired and encouraged me again. Then, I resort to my lists. When I'm too discouraged to put words on the page, when I don't trust my diction and hate all my sentences, I work on items I can break down into lists. Character profiles, chapter outlines, scene lists, motifs, research, etc. I don't have to finesse those, and they do need done. Finally, I sent a new query- one for each rejection I receive. Finding a new agent who wants my genre, who might say yes, is exciting.

The most important element of my rejection plan is this: start a new project. Beginning a new MS is exciting and encouraging and full of potential. Having something like that to fall back on and keep me going while I'm querying is wonderful. It keeps me from obsessing and it keeps me working, both absolutely necessary things.

So, from the depths of the query trenches, here's my encouragement: keep at it in spite of the feelings. Writers are tough people. Being tough doesn't mean we don't want to quit- it just means we keep going anyway because we know its worth it. We have stories and characters and what-ifs to share. We love pulling all those things together, and we'll do what it takes to make it happen.

What do you do when you get discouraged? How do you handle rejection?


  1. Rejection sucks - plain and simple. But it's a part of this industry. I've coped with it in a very similar way. I let myself have a pity party for the remainder of the day, then it's over. It's time to move on. I lean on my CP's & writer friends, confide in them. No one else understands quite like another writer. Then I use that rejection, whether it included feedback or not, as motivation. And though it's not easy, I press on towards my dream! GREAT post!

  2. Received three rejections for my non fiction work about obesity. Am going to write about it, I decided, just now after reading this. Writing is a way I come to grips with things. It helps me over the hurdle so I can then move on to success.

    Thanks for the encouragement.