How to find the enthusiasm to write after your squillienth rejection

Writing is a mug’s game. There. I’ve said it. At the risk of being labelled a pessimist, destroyer of all joy, fatalistic moron, or whatever else, I’m afraid I have to be truthful. If you’re a writer trying to get published, or just about to embark on your writing journey, I’m afraid the likelihood is you’ve either already collected enough rejections to decorate a bungalow, or are about to start your collection.

If I had a pound for everyone who said, “Well, J.K Rowling did it, and she had hundreds of rejections before…blah, blah, blah. BLAAAHHHHHH,” then I wouldn’t need to write a best-seller – I’d already be minted. J.K Rowling won the equivalent of the publishing lottery. There are some winners, yes. In fact, every week there’s usually one, but for every winner there are thousands upon thousands of losers. Unlike nipping down the newsagents to buy a lotto ticket, however, writing a book requires time – sometimes years of it – passion, and a huge investment in commitment, energy and hope.

Another thing people say when they’re being kind is: ‘as long as you enjoy writing, it doesn’t matter you get rejected, does it?’

Yes it does. It matters. It matters because when you write a book you pour your heart into it. Of course, the writing process is enjoyable (otherwise, why do it?), but it also takes a lot of time and means making a lot of sacrifices – especially if you have a family to think of. After all that, receiving a rejection is like a kick in the gut. Ten rejections is like getting a thorough beating from the biggest kid in school, and trying to pick yourself up to go back to lessons with a smile on your face.

When you get rejection letter one, you might be fairly philosophical about it – ‘ah well, didn’t expect to get picked up straight away, anyway.’ After rejection letter 10, you might start questioning your writing abilities. Imagine this many – and more rejections – for each novel you write. Then things start getting tougher.

In the last two years I’ve had three acceptances of novels, four of novellas and one for a short story. But in this same time and for five years before this, please understand, I’ve had tens of rejections. After a recent bout of rejections I was finding it particularly difficult to get started again with my next project.

I asked myself:

What’s the point if I’m so crap that no-one wants to publish me?

I’ve spent seven years of my life writing, and for what? – I could have spent the time doing a PhD and had something to show for it!

Just as I was really starting to question whether I was wasting my life doing something fruitless, an acceptance popped into my inbox. I’d almost forgotten even making the submission, and there it was – a real acceptance from a real publisher offering to pay me real money for a story I’d written that they really liked. Well, bloody hell.

This came at just the right time and spurred me on to re-work a manuscript I’d previously had rejected and submit it again.

This is the reality – agents and publishers receive thousands of submissions every year. They’re often reluctant to say how many, but on one agents website I was reading last week, it said the figure was in the region of 2,000 a year. The same agent said they took on around two new authors a year. The stakes ain’t high, folks.

Now, you’d be forgiven for thinking this article is designed to put you off writing. Far from it – it’s a reality check to manage expectations, but also me sharing my experiences to hopefully help you realise that if your work gets rejected over and over, you are very definitely not alone.

Rejections do not mean:

  • Your writing is crap.
  • You will never get published.
  • Your life is a big, jokey waste of time and you are deluded if you think your book will ever see the light of day.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to launch into some dross about how rejections make us more resilient and are part of the journey to success. Both those things are true, but they sound naff. What I will say however is that there is one way of guaranteeing you’ll never get published, and that’s if you stop writing.

A couple of years ago, before I got my first publishing deal, I just wanted someone to tell me whether I was wasting my time and should give up. Did my writing show any promise, whatsoever? I realise now that’s the wrong question. You know if you can write, right? You know if you have the desire and the gift to put sentences together and tell a ruddy good yarn. You know that.

Getting that publishing deal is a heady combination of luck, timing and you stopping feeling sorry for yourself after your squillienth rejection for long enough to get off your butt and write something amazing.

Every time you write a story, send a submission and get a rejection is one step closer to you getting that deal. If you can write, and you keep writing and submitting, you WILL get there. I read an interview with a very successful author recently who said that every book on a shelf represents years of hard work and dedication from someone who never gave up.

Who knows – you might be one of the very few who gets there first time, but if you’re not, take heart that you’re in excellent company. Many fabulous writers don’t get there first time, second, third, or even tenth, but they DO get there. And so will you.

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