06 November, 2012

On Rejection... again

Back in March I posted about the most inevitable part of being a writer who's trying to get published - rejections. Whether it's not making a competition shortlist, a short story not being accepted by a magazine editor, or an agent failing to see the potential of your novel, rejections happen. Sometimes they happen a lot. In quick succession.

Last weekend I got my first rejection for my novel, Thousand-Word Things. I was really disappointed - much more so than usual (I try to be chipper about such matters) - as the agency was one which had liked some of my previous work enough to send me a letter of encouragement. This time, it was just a standard rejection letter.

My plight became somewhat comedic on Sunday, when I told some good friends that I'd had a rejection. Their three year-old daughter was very concerned, thinking I had said 'injection' and wanting to know what was wrong. Thus followed a loud conversation between her and her mother, in the middle of our church, along the lines of:

"Not injection, darling. Rejection. Chloe's had a rejection. A REjection. REJECTION. No, Chloe's fine. She's had a REJECTION, not an injection. Rejection means..."

Lucky it's not a sensitive subject, huh?

As time goes on I find myself feeling more reluctant to talk to non-writers about the submission process. It's easier to pretend you're not trying, than to admit you're failing. However much I quote statistics at them (about one in every 1000 submissions to literary agents is successful), I feel like they must be judging me for not being "good enough". I'm both touched by and dread the question, "Any news?" (News? Well for the last year I've sat at my computer every day trying to put words in the right order, and now I'm just about ready to have a lot of people I don't know tell me it's not good enough.)

If you're not a writer (or not one who submits work to editors), what's your impression of the world of agents and submissions? What do you think when a writer tells you about their failures?

I firmly believe that you can't be a writer if you remain downbeat about rejections for too long. But equally you can't be a writer if you don't care! Sometimes you'll be riding a wave (a couple of years ago I had a few months where I won prizes in several short ficiton competitions as well as getting my first commission for an anthology); other times you'll go months with no news or only rejections. Last time I asked you about your best and worst rejections. Today, I want to ask you about your attitude to them instead. Do rejections get you down? Do you have a limit of how many you can take before reaching for the chocolate? When do you give up?

I'm still excited about my novel, which is already in the inboxes of other agents. But in the difficult moments, when I'm trying to justify committing every day to writing and hoping, I remind myself of this quote from Jill Dawson (one I've posted before):

"I can, of course, see the temptation of not beginning. Chiefly, not beginning sustains the belief that you are gifted, that the novel - when you one day get round to writing it - will surpass all others [...] Not beginning protects you from the disappointment - no, the shame - of reading what you have written and finding it rubbish. It also prevents you from an equally disturbing possibility: discovering that you can write."

At least I began.

16 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. *corrected post* Oh Chloe - what a terrible announcement of your rejection! It'll be funny in a few months time.

      Yep, I keep them to myself. I have sooooo many rejections that to be honest, they don't really sting anymore. Little disapointed, but hey ho, on and on I go.

      I find non-writers generally don't get it. You have to have a lot of rejections as a writer. It's just the way it is. I remember when I worked for Earth Sciences - there was this huge distinction between Men and Women who went for promotion. Women don't apply as often. Men are more daring, more courageous to submit their application on the off chance (or more arrogant :D). Women wait until they KNOW that they will get it.

      I saw, and watched top academics being rejected on a weekly basis and it was inspiring. To be great at something, means you keep applying like a crazy person despite the rejections. We live in a subjective world - one where people can hate the Lord of the Rings (I know, weird, right?) and also believe in Yeties (who's to say they're wrong eh?). Variety and spice, and all that. You're just looking for the person who will like the spice you're providing!

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    2. Freya, you're brilliant - thank-you! I was just talking about the difference between men and women applying for jobs to somebody else this morning. My favourite story of rejection is that Iain Banks wrote FIVE novels before one was accepted. Five! That takes great courage to keep believing you can do it through four whole novels!

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  2. I'm right there with you. Got my first last week two. And a few more since. I know it's an uphill battle, but it kinda sucks.

    My first novel to query was a learning experience. I had MANY rejections. And I understand why. This time I know my writing is so much tighter, but I've still got one issue which will make agents leery about it. But I'm trying to find agents who are more open. (To a college freshman protag as a YA story.)

    I don't know when I'll quit. I have no magic number.

    But I will still go through a bunch of agents. If nothing happens, I'll try publishers. I don't give up easily.

    But waiting sucks--and you can quote me on that! :)

    Feel free to e-mail me if you ever need an ear. We can swap rejection stories and commiserate with each other!

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    1. Opps. Just read my post after it went up. I really do know the difference between to/too/two... Really. :)

      (See the first sentence)

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    2. I didn't even notice the 'two' - great editor, huh?!

      Although I am delighted (if a tad jealous) when other writers do well, it's always such a comfort to hear other people are getting rejected too! I hope you find an agent soon, but I'm still giving you a cheer whatever happens, for having the audacity to persevere! Thanks :0)

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  3. It will happen. You have to know it will happen, even if you make it happen yourself. Many popular books have come about that way. If you are a storyteller with the stamina to tell it on the page, eventually someone will recognise you. The vital thing is to keep and improve the skill,and build yourself a reservoir of material for use and reuse. We know you're talented ~ keep that in sight. Ceve

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  4. Not being a writer I might be completely wrong, but I always imagine that the first rejection for any particular piece of work must hurt more than the subsequent ones. As the Jill Dawson quote implies, until that point you just don't know what the response will be.

    I certainly don't think that a rejection implies that you're not good enough. I assume that a rejection is the norm and a success is amazing - and it makes every success (no matter how big or small) feel that much more worth it. I often don't ask how things are going as you'd say if you'd heard good news, and I don't want to bring attention to the bad news if that's not what you want.

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    1. Bless you :) Writers are fickle - we want people to ask, so long as we have good news. Otherwise we get grumpy! That's why a blog's great for sharing news fo all sorts.

      I usually (this time was an exception) find the first rejection OK, unless there was some reason I felt I stood a better than average chance. The first one feels like the process has started for real! It's the next few that get me, and then after that it feels kind of numb - especially if you get lots of rejections for different things all in the same week. I almost find it funny then. (Almost).

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  5. Oh - I'm waiting to hear for the first time. I know how stacked the odds are but a tiny part of me wonders... but I know how stacked the odds are. Maybe I'll let you know how I react to rejection soon!
    I wonder why I'm bothering but I feel as if I have no choice. Strange life to live, hey?
    Thankyou for your insights. Hope you're singing a different song very soon.

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    1. Keep wondering, Helen! Yes, we know the odds, but if we didn't wonder, we wouldn't do it. And hey, sometimes somebody wonders if they're going to do it and they do! Maybe you'll never know what rejection feels like (I've been rejected so many times for so many things now I'm becoming quite an expert - but it makes the times I'm accepted much sweeter!). Good luck! Let me know how you do...

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  6. I think I've said this before, but I'm not sure it was here. Apologies if I'm repeating myself. Part of the problem is the terminology. Rejection is harsh - both as a concept and as a word in itself. I come from a manufacturing background, and in that environment if a component is rejected, then there is something fundamentally and identifiably wrong with it. It's faulty, it'll never work, and it's fit only for the scrap bin.

    With writing, it's never that cut-and-dried. There may be (and I suspect there are) plenty of stuff that reaches an editor's desk and has clear and irreparable problems with it. But there's going to be an awful lot of perfectly good writing that doesn't quite fit, is too similar to something they've recently accepted, or it just doesn't have the right kind of appeal.

    So, let's reject "rejection". Let's say our work has been "declined". The way you might decline a dessert at a restaurant if you'd already eaten your fill. The sweet trolley looks amazing, there's absolutely nothing wrong with any of the cakes and puddings, but you're just too full to do any of those treats justice. So, you decline, and the trolley is wheeled away again, ready to delight a different customer.

    I'm sorry to hear your novel was declined, Chloe, but don't take it to heart. Keep that dessert trolley on the move, and good luck.

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    1. I like that idea! 'Declined' sounds a lot more palatable. (My mum thought I should cross out the word rejection in the picture and put 'pending' instead)

      I think the problem is that unless somebody takes the time to write a personal letter - which understandably they're only going to do in special circumstances - you have no idea if there's a fundamental problem that's going to make everyone reject you, or it just wasn't to their taste, or what!

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  7. While rejection can be seen as an occupational hazard, it's important to recognise the hazardous side of it. Unless there is specific feedback on your work and any flaws or development points, all you're really being told is that a certain piece of work isn't, at that time, suitable for a certain agent or editor. The rest is conjecture. I think it hurts less as time and rejections occur (sing it with me: rejects - I've had a few...) because there's a gradually shifting context. The rejection then relates to the second draft and not the third, or book1 but not book 2. A word of caution though - not many agents will give you a second bite of the cherry with the same book, but so very sure that you and your book are ready when you submit. I've learned that one the hard way and had a book rejected out of hand simply because it was submitted 18 months before (they remembered and I didn't).

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    1. I've submitted too early before too. With my children's novel I sent it off because I wasn't sure what else to do with it. I was rejected a few times then got it critiqued and there were a few fundamental flaws with it. I learned my lesson!

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