C.K. Kelly Martin, the author of our Book of the Month, has been kind enough to share her thoughts on how to avoid the rejection blues. You can find out more about C.K. Kelly Martin on her website.
How I wish I had some full-proof treatment to protect tender writer hearts from the pain of rejection. I’d add peppermint flavouring to it (I can’t stand cherry) and bottle it with directions to take a teaspoon every day (because writers, actors, musicians and other artists need ongoing protection against this scourge!). Then none of us would ever have to worry about the sting of rejection and how it can hold us back again. Because at its worst rejection can be completely devastating. It can stop a writer in his or her tracks, emotionally devastate them and make them turn away from the idea of pursuing publication. Even when it doesn’t stop you, it can slow you down, burn in the pit of your stomach and make you question your ability, again and again.
People will sometimes advise that you need to develop a thick skin to be a writer but how the heck do you develop a thick skin anyway? And how do you do it while maintaining a sensitivity that allows you to get inside other people’s heads with your writing?
Personally, I don’t think my skin is any thicker now than when I started submitting to agents way back in 2001. And rejection is still everywhere. It doesn’t stop when your book gets published. Sometimes bookstore chains will decide not to stock your book (Barnes and Noble didn’t carry My Beating Teenage Heart). Sometimes review journals will pan your novel – it’s rare for all of them to adore every aspect of your book. Other times your book may not get much attention at all, which feels like a rejection too. And no matter who you are (even if you’re on the bestseller list or won the Pulitzer) there will be some folks on Goodreads that feel about your book the way I feel about cherry cough syrup. It can be rough, to say the least.
If you want to have your writing out there in the world you have to learn to be able to survive rejection and not let it overwhelm you. I’m not a guru at dealing with rejection by any means – there are times it can really drag me down – but I’m still here so I guess that means something! And I’m going to give you some advice that I hope will help, stuff that’s helped me over the years.
1) Shrink the rejection down to size. Two or even two-dozen or two hundred rejections don’t make you a bad writer. Getting your work into print so often means getting it into the right hands at the right time. Here are a selection of music/film/book rejections that prove even the so-called experts don’t know everything.
- In the early 60s Decca Record rejected The Beatles, saying that “guitar groups are on the way out.”
- Kathryn Stockett’s bestseller The Help was initially turned down by 60 literary agents.
- In 1968 a producer forced filmmaker Jacques Demy to drop Harrison Ford as the star of the movie Model Shop declaring that Ford had no future in the movies.
- J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected by twelve publishers (this after she was fired from her secretarial job for daydreaming) before being signed by Bloomsbury.
- English author Clare Morrall, whose first book was shortlisted for the 2003 Booker Prize, told Telegraph literary critic Tom Payne in 2003 that she had received thousands of rejection letters.
You can read several more examples of famous author rejections at Writer’s Relief.
2) Like Otis Redding sang, try a little tenderness. Be kind to yourself when the rejections come in. Share the rejections with people you know will empathize and be good for a pep talk (whether these folks are other writers or not). It seriously helps to have other people acknowledge how hard the publishing business can be and to give you a booster shot of confidence. I depend on these special people to help me over the bad patches, for sure. In addition, pamper yourself with things like your favourite movie, food, time with your favourite videogame etc. Not for days on end, of course, because the idea is to get back to writing! But still, spoil yourself a little. You’re not a robot. You’re allowed to feel the pain before getting back on the horse.
3). Hope persists. Some anonymous person spray-painted that message under a train bridge near my apartment and I loved them for it. A surefire way to fail at something is to give up. And even that’s not necessarily a failure because maybe, in the end, writing isn’t the thing for you. But while you’re still in the game I guarantee the possibilities remain open for you. Remember when I cited Harrison Ford as an example of rejection? He has some sage things to say about it: “I realized early on that success was tied to not giving up. Most people in this business gave up and went on to other things. If you simply didn’t give up, you would outlast the people who came in on the bus with you.”Persistence is half the battle. If you love to write, stick with it. Get better and better and keep sending submissions out until they reach the right person. Persistence is half of the battle. Persistence is half the battle. Persistence is half the battle. Get it?
4) What else would you be doing? About a decade ago I saw the documentary Comedianwhich focuses on Jerry Seinfeld and then twenty-nine year old comedian Orny Adams. At one point Orny’s discussing a life crisis he’s having with Jerry – talking about feeling left behind by friends whose lives seem to be going places while he struggles with a career in comedy. Jerry, incredulous, says, “What else would you be doing if you weren’t chasing your dream?”. When Orny replies that he doesn’t know, Jerry says “There you go….where do you have to be?” If writing is truly your dream you won’t be able to give up. Oh, maybe for a few days, weeks, months or even years. But in the end you’ll arrive back at the feeling that there isn’t anything you would rather be doing than chasing your dream. Maybe you need a break(s). Maybe you need to pursue writing part-time while you make your money elsewhere but if you truly want to write you’ll be back, rejection be damned!