Writing teaches you a lot about yourself – how able you are to work alone, whether or not you can be self-disciplined and how creative you can be. It also teaches you something you might never have needed to know before: how well you deal with rejection, or not, as the case may be.
I’ve discovered that I’m much better at coping with rejection than I thought I would be. Not sure if that’s a good thing or not…
The road to getting published isn’t like working towards passing an exam or getting a promotion, where you have a reasonable level of control over matters, with how hard you work being directly related to your likelihood of success. No, when it comes to writing, you can work as hard as you damn well like and spend hours and hours on your project, only to receive a generic ‘thanks but no thanks’ response.
I’ve so far submitted four partial manuscripts and had rejections for all of them, but have been surprised at how relatively easy I’ve found it so far to ‘get back on the horse’.
Working in PR for over a decade has certainly stood me in good stead for coping with getting turned down. If you think, when you start a career in the media, that you can send your fabulous and so carefully written press release out to a few journalists and within minutes they’ll be biting your hand off to get that interview/product sample, then you’ll be sorely disappointed. In reality, you might tell a thousand journalists about your client’s new lipstick, that is going to CHANGE THEIR LIVES, but if you get one bite back you’re lucky.
And for every one positive response you might get a hundred more telling you what you can do with your revolutionary new lipstick – and it has nothing to do with your face.
OK, that’s an exaggeration – most journalists are nice, and I’ve been lucky to work with some lovely ones, but there have been quite a few occasions I can think of where I have been told in no uncertain terms to ‘go away’. When I get this, I really, really don’t care. I might re-think how I approach them in the future but the fact that they don’t want me or my fabulous lipstick doesn’t bother me and I don’t take it personally, it’s just part of the job. So all I do is bid them a polite farewell and make the next call. It doesn’t put me off ever calling another journalist again. If it did, I’d be unemployed.
This is the same with submitting your writing to publishers or agents. Just because one doesn’t like it doesn’t mean the next will be of the same opinion. If you have a hundred who don’t like it, there might be that one that loves it and BOOM – you only need that one!
A talented artist friend of mine told me that years ago she took examples of her work into a studio, only to be laughed at by the man in charge, who effectively told her her work was rubbish. It wasn’t rubbish, it just didn’t appeal to him because art, like literature, is subjective. Or maybe it did appeal to him and he felt threatened by her talent – who knows! Anyway, the point is the experience put her off ever putting herself in that intimidating situation again and that was it, potential dream career over, all because of one person who turned her down. What a waste of a talent, and who knows what could have been if she hadn’t have let that one rejection get to her.
So, are you going to let one negative response pee on your metaphorical bonfire, or are you going to shrug it off, bid him a polite farewell (always be polite – even if being rejected, accept with dignity), and try again? I strongly recommend the latter because if you choose the former, the only person who will care or suffer will be you.
If you get anyone who scoffs at your work, that’s baaaaaad form. Don’t ever deal with them again, they’re not professionals. If you’re dealing with a reputable publisher/agent even their rejections are very polite. It’s important to keep in mind that they’re very busy people so if they’ve bothered to give you any sort of feedback at all, that’s absolutely brilliant! Absorb it, act on it and try again by applying their expert advice.
I get asked quite a lot how many more times I’m going to try before I ‘call it a day’, and I do have a figure in my head of 10 attempts. If I’m still trying unsuccessfully by then perhaps it is time to admit defeat.
Although I’d hate to give in, I also would hate to waste my life working towards something that might never happen. My primary ambition is to get a book published but my secondary one is to do a PhD, and as I’m already a woman on the edge most of the time, there’s no way one earth I could contemplate doing both at the same time!
Perhaps if I get nowhere with my writing after 10 attempts I could do a PhD in mechanisms for coping with rejection. By that point I should, if nothing else, be very well versed to write a thesis on the subject!