‘Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately…’: Dealing with rejection
Becky Orwin runs a blog, The Rejection Box, chronicling her ongoing quest to get her first novel published. In 2017 she has resolved to send off one submission per day until her novel is published (or she runs out of people to send it to…).
I’m no stranger to rejection – I’m not even a stranger to being rejected for this particular book. But I’ve just had my first rejection of 2017, so it seems like a fine time to share some general thoughts on rejection.
My personal response to each rejection varies, but here’s a brief overview of what usually happens when I receive one…
- Check inbox, see unread email from agent: heartbeat immediately quickens.
- Move mouse / thumb slowly towards the email, trying not to look at any words I can see that follow ‘Thank you for your submission’…
- Click on it, my guts literally squeezing with hope.
- Eyes pull magnetically to the word immediately following ‘thank you for your submission’: ‘Unfortunately’…
- Heart breaks a little bit.
- Conscience immediately rallies, remind myself that I have many more irons in the fire, I wasn’t that keen on that agent anyway, they’ll rue the day if I’m ever successful etc. etc.
- Abandon whatever I’m actually supposed to be doing and make myself a cup of tea.
- Sit with tea, feel a bit sad.
- Generally achieve nothing for the rest of the day.
To neatly summarise; it sucks, but it’s a manageable kind of suck. Plus, in my limited experience the suck is not cumulative – in fact quite the opposite. Up to a certain point, the more rejections I receive the more numb I become to each new one. (I hope to never discover what happens past that certain point.)
I’d love to be able to tell you how to best cope with rejection, but as with all things writing-y, I don’t believe that there is a straight answer that works for everyone. So instead, I’m going to tell you what makes me feel better, and then do a short grumpy bit where I tell you what I don’t find helpful.
- Start a new project – even if it’s just playing around with some ideas for what you’ll write next. This is a big one; so much so that I’m going to write a whole post on it at some point in the future.
- Re-read the things that made you want to be a writer. Re-watch films that you find inspiring. Remind yourself that wonderful people do get wonderful things out into the world.
- Do something else for a while. Close the rejection, get up and force yourself to think about something else – I imagine doing some exercise would work here, if that’s your thing, or do some housework, read a book, have a dance in the kitchen to the radio – whatever helps.
- (This one is MUCH less mature…) Cyber-stalk people who were mean to you in school to reassure yourself that they’re definitely never going to be published writers.
- Don’t be afraid to fantasise about the day you get an email back that isn’t a rejection. Determination has to come from somewhere, and if it comes from blind delusion (which is at least 85% of mine) then so be it!
- Reading novels that you don’t like in the genre you’re writing in. So for me this is bad YA fantasy / dystopia with pointless love triangles and heroines with no sense of humour. I think to myself ‘well, this will help – if they got published then surely one day I will’. That is not what happens. Instead, this is a sure-fire way to fill yourself with aimless rage and despair.
- Dwelling on it. The more you think about it, the worse it feels.
- Taking it personally. Regardless of how well you know this agent probably sent off about fifty of these rejections today, it’s still really hard to believe that this isn’t personal – but it’s really, really not. I try to think of agents as harassed, overworked worriers terrified of accidentally turning down the next Harry Potter. I don’t know why, but that mental image helps.
- This is a grumpy one – but being told that everyone gets rejected doesn’t really make me feel better. Because I’m not everyone, I’m me. It’s the literary equivalent of telling someone who’s miserable that there are worse things happening in the world. You think you’re giving me perspective, but actually I now just feel guilty and thoroughly unexceptional, as well as sad.
- Ultimately, I find it helpful to do something progressive; to move on, in some small way, and try not to feel too sorry for myself (though by God, that happens too). At the end of the day, I think you have to slide your gaze away from the rejection, look straight at the camera and say:
Bring. It. On.
Becky publishes new posts on her blog every Monday. Amongst other things, they cover: how to cope with rejection; being irrationally jealous of published authors, and other thinly veiled complaints! www.therejectionbox.wordpress.com / Twitter: @becky_orwin