If you write anything, and someone reads it, there’s a big chance it will meet with rejection. A very, very big chance. However, success relies more in how you deal with rejection than anything else.
The first kind of rejection comes when you re-read. If you participate in an exercise line National Novel Writing Month, you’re going to eventually reread the stuff you wrote a few weeks previously, and hate it. You’re rejecting you. If the amount of material that you reject is large enough, there’s a chance you’re going to say something like “I suck” followed shortly by “What’s the use?”
The second kind of rejection is when you send your work to your closest friends for their comment. This one is more subtle. It is the rarest kind of friend who will say “I didn’t care for it, but if you want, I can help you make it better.” Most often, you will get variants of these: “It was interesting.” or “It was good.” I classify these as rejections as well, since the reader, although a good friend of yours, is not reading with an eye towards helping you. That is, if they are reading it at all. I know that sometimes when I quiz them with “What did you like best?” I get such a vague answer that I know that they have not read it at all.
The third kind of rejection the one you get when you send out your piece to a market and get a rejection slip back. This can be some of the toughest rejection to handle, especially since most of the rejection slips are so very generic.
The fourth kind (“there’s more?” – the Comp) is when you actually get something into print. You’ve impressed an editor, an anthologist, or an agent, and your work is out there, all wonderful and selling. Then the reviews come in. I have read some rather harsh reviews of fellow author’s works in the press, and that must make the royalty check seem pretty meaningless.
So, what do you do when faced with these kinds of rejections?
First kind (you reject you). First drafts suck. It’s the nature of the beast. You KNOW that if you had gone over that Sociology paper one more time, you’d have moved the grade needle up. Same with all other kinds of writing. Sometimes, the story is just not going to happen (A Story Comes Together – Maybe). I have a hard drive littered with half-completed stories that I knew just weren’t gelling. In my DOV work, I have so far carved out forty percent of the words I wrote, simply because they didn’t fit the framework of the novel. Yeah, sometimes the output sucks. But YOU don’t suck – just the output. What do you do? Work on the output. Make it better. Learn and become more efficient. But never, ever, believe that you, yourself suck.
Second kind (your friends reject you) You must tell anyone to whom you give your work that you expect constructive feedback. If they’re not willing to do that, then never, ever, rely on what they say as anything other than them patting you on the back with their very generic #1 foam fingers. Unless they are other writers, chances are they have no idea how to give feedback or otherwise help you. Notice, I didn’t say NOT to let them read your work – just don’t expect anything useful.
The one exception is if there is one friend who will tell you when they don’t understand something. They are gold! One of my perils is that I write at the college senior level, or assume the reader knows all of my assumptions. This proofer of mine keeps me from losing the reader.
Third kind (market rejects you) can be some of the most frustrating. Typically, you get a response that is generic, without any sort of guidance on how to make it better. That’s hard to overcome. I mean, you read the work again, and it seems fine to you. The worst thing to do at this point is to shrug and write something else. Why? Because you are merely perpetuating the same problem. Think of rejection slips as pieces of sandpaper. You can lightly brush up against them and they’ll hurt a bit. Really read them, get into them, and it hurts bad. If you’re writing stuff that is as cutting edge as a butter knife, you need that sandpaper to sharpen your edge. If you just ignore it, and keep writing and submitting, you have no idea if you’re generating good sharp stories, or churning out slabs of bar stock, unusable.
The best thing you can do is to politely ask your market, after the rejection, if they would send you along some pointers. See, for example, all the posts I’ve tagged for Writing Etiquette. Armed with this kind of feedback, I am now equipped to write better works, informed by editors who have thought about my work.
The fourth kind of rejection is in some ways the cruellest: the after-publication criticism. I have, to date, two writing credits. In both of those works, I have not yet suffered from this sort of rejection, but I know it’s a matter of time. Yet, I have read reviews that have excoriated other fellow authors in that work. I have felt absolutely terrible for them. Then I realized that I, too, have done something similar, though never publicly.
I have in mind a particular series by a wildly successful author. Reading it again after a hiatus of some months, I realized how repetitious a key plot device was. Let’s call it….topaz. Every paragraph had topaz in it somewhere. I soon started mocking it under my breath. Topaz. Toooopaaaaaz! Well, this authot probably has a few mill in the bank, and I am shambling around in my virtual garret shrieking “Topaz!” and feeling superior. Laughing yet? Good – that’s just how you should feel as an author when someone makes a cutting remark about your work after you’ve cashed the check.
I could go on, but this is way too long as it is. Just remember: Given: You will be rejected. Whether by your own censor, the disinterest of your friends and family, the market, or the critics aftermarket. Never let them get you down. Work. Write. Learn. Write more. Submit. Learn. Write. Cash checks.
You can do it. As long as you don’t ever let that last rejection slip define you. Go for it!