2023 / 05 - THE FEEDBACK TRIAGE SERIES - THE ROLE OF REJECTION
Here’s a Thought - Rejection is just misalignment. For now.
“I’ve been rejected by all the publishers and agents I pitched to. I give up.”
“Don’t worry, I’ve been rejected since I started, I don’t need to go to a talk about handling rejection.”
If you have been practising for a while, the above two statements would have been said to you in some way, shape, or form. If not, it can also show up in the form of publishers “ghosting” you, constantly seeing others getting published while you continue to slave away on your manuscript, or low to no sales even after you’ve spent all your effort self-publishing something.
And yet, there’s another saying - “You’re not really a writer until you have been rejected an obscene amount of times.” (Thanks Bianca Marais!)
So for this issue, we jump into the first of a trio of Void Deck Writer issues talking about processing feedback we receive for our work. And in order to do that, there’s a friend at the table we’ll need to introduce ourselves to. Preferably, introduce and get comfortable with.
Welcome to this issue - about Rejection and the key role it plays in your writing career / practice.
Here’s a Thought - Rejection is just misalignment. For now.
While writing is a craft, publishing is a business.
Which means in order to make money or a living off your writing (fiction, non-fiction, journalism etc…), you need to sell your manuscripts / articles. And this means the basic law of transaction applies - people will buy from you if they believe that you will provide a needed value.
And just to note - Entertainment is value and is serving a need. Fun is value and is serving a need. Just look at the media and entertainment industry.
Understanding the basic process above, here’s the crux of the situation - Rejection is abound. And will continue to be part and parcel of the business of content and creation. It will come when you’re pitching your stories to agents and publishers, it will come when you’re talking to distributors and stores (if you’re a self or indie publisher), it will come when you’re doing direct sales at a launch or event.
To top it all off?
Sometimes, it has NOTHING to do with the work either.
Sometimes, it’s wrong story, wrong time (hard to predict, even with experts). Sometimes, it’s just the publisher or audience member being unable to afford your story. Sometimes, it can be as superficial as - “I don’t vibe with you.” - and there’s nothing you can do about it.
The good news, though?
Being rejected once does not mean you will stay rejected.
Staying stagnant or using your countless rejections as an excuse to take your frustrations out or blame will only hurt yourself and your practice.
So what can we do about it?
Personally, it starts with a single word - Mindset.
First thing - writing is a craft, but publishing is still a business. And if you want to publish your writing, it means you’ll have to convince a party to go through an exchange of goods and services. Your story for their publication / royalties / advance, the works.
And that means rejection is part and parcel of the process. It also means that it’s almost never a personal attack (even though it may feel like it). Here’s a list of common reasons for rejection:
The manuscript is riddled with errors, plot holes, or reads like it’s being deliberately offensive. - Note: This is often the largest reason for rejection, but it’s also the only reason you can do something about.
The publisher / agent is not looking for your story or a particular concept for this moment.
The publisher / agent cannot afford your pitch for the moment.
Your work is not aligned with the publisher / agent because you either are not sure about what your work or your craft is about. Or you just adopted the “spray and pray” method.
And the list can go on and on. However, a main line of thought threads through these reasons - it’s almost always something out of your control. Apart from concentrating on your craft and trying again later, or self-publishing, there really is not much you can do to directly cause your manuscript at the point of pitch to magically be published without interference, exactly how you want it.
That is how the circumstances are.
Speaking of circumstance…
Second, rejection is neutral. This means it’s neither good nor bad - it all depends on how you approach or react to the rejection. This is because rejection is a circumstance - it’s a happening or fact that can be proven in the Court of Law (thanks LITO!) - you either get what you want or you don’t, with the evidence to prove it.
But you’re wrong! Most people will say that rejection is a bad thing, obviously.
What if the publisher turns out to be an organisation that manages to lock you in, only to have you realise that the editor they assign to you has an important standing with the publisher but is entirely misaligned to you? Would rejection be a good or bad thing for you?
What if you sign with the first publisher or agent out of impatience (because you want to be published yesterday), only to find yourself locked into a contract when a BETTER deal comes along? Would rejection be a good or bad thing for you?
Now, I’m not going to tell you to silver-lining everything. The above-mentioned scenarios are to demonstrate that rejection, as a circumstance, is neutral.
We can feel relieved about it. We can also feel sad about it. There’s nothing wrong with both.
However, as mentioned earlier, avoiding or “ignoring” rejection may lead to highly damaging mindsets in your creative career / practice. Therefore, the key here is to manage “rejection”.
The irony of managing rejection, though? Accepting and/or even welcoming it.
We’ll talk about how in more detail later.
Rejection: The barrier, misalignment, or disagreement to a proposal, pitch, or a transaction. This can be done for whatever reason the “rejector” decides.
Circumstance: A situation, environment, or happening that can be proven as fact, or undeniable in a Court of Law. Circumstances are neutral, which means how “good” or “bad” a circumstance is (i.e. Rejection) is dependent on how we respond or make meaning of it. For example, rejection as a circumstance is neutral - you either get what you want, or you do not. Neither side of the spectrum is good or bad until you assign meaning to either.
Acceptance: In this context, acceptance is the act of processing the circumstances with the intention to make meaning and grow from the experience. Note: Avoiding, suppressing, and blaming are NOT forms of acceptance (i.e. “I don’t care already! I don’t want to waste my time talking to people who just ‘don’t get it’” - but it’s said with a mocking tone or with frustration). As we go about life and practice in general, acceptance is often a skill that evolves and how “acceptance” feels or looks like will differ moving forward.
What Can I Do as a Writer?
Do I even need to dedicate energy to do that since it’s okay to be sad about rejection?
Short answer - yes.
Longer answer - yes, here’s why: Because not managing rejection can give you problems in the long run, not just with external parties in the industry, but also with yourself. Think about it this way - the way you feel irked about something your editor / beta reader said (that was absolutely necessary but not music to your ears)? That’s you scrambling to react to “rejection”.
So how can I, a writer or creative practitioner, manage rejection?
Never be afraid to try again. I get it. It’s embarrassing, it’s exhausting, you don’t want to go through the administrative processes and pitching and talking about yourself - WHY CAN’T YOUR WORK JUST DO THE TALKING FOR YOU?!
Learn to Accept Rejection. We’ve all heard the sayings - Rejection is a blessing. Treat Rejection as your friend. Yes, it’s all easier said than done. So let’s make things a little easier - try looking at rejection as neutral first. Submit that piece, find opportunities that align with you and go for them, and when you hear nothing or get a rejection letter, store them in your rejection folder and congratulate yourself on a new lesson learnt. Of course, this takes practice, and with more practice, the more you can better deal with rejection. Remember, are you really a writer if you haven’t been rejected an umpteen amount of times?
Continue working on your craft. While we continue to work at refining our pitches and participating in opportunities that either come our way or that we seek out, things can feel slow. Or in other words, we might get impatient. And that is normal. So use this time to work on your craft and titles - the more we work on our titles, fictional universes, and craft, the higher the chances for more creative inspiration, epiphanies, and the pending improvements.
BONUS! Here’s a bit of a cheat tip: DO NOT “copy” other books the publishers have published in the hopes of a greater chance of getting published, especially when you do not like writing in the style or on that topic in the first place. Publishers, editors, and agents KNOW when you are doing certain things in hopes of getting published for the sake of it. We’ve all seen these cases - the ability to answer the exam questions correctly, but nothing else. Agents, publishers, and audience members are looking for a creator they can root for, and who are able to talk about their work and vision clearly. There is no miracle pill, secret formula, or code to crack (even when you think there’s a system behind this).
I hope you will be able to glean something helpful from my reflections moving forward as well!
And that’s it from me this round! If you like what you’re seeing, have any questions about publishing that you would like me to look at, or just want to say hi, do drop me a comment or send me a message. I would definitely like to hear from you.
Keep the pages turning!