My son went back to work this past week at the inner city high school where he teaches. When he handed in the requested form indicating that he planned to return the following year, his principal was effusive. “He got really excited, Mom,” my son told me. “It feels good to be wanted.”
It does feel good. I’ve yet to meet a person in any career who doesn’t love feeling that his or her work is valued. But truth be told, that’s one of the challenges of being a writer. Competition is stiff, and rejection is part of what you sign on for when you put your work out there.
No matter how many times writers are advised not to take rejection personally, it’s tough not to. After all, we’ve poured lots and lots of hours and emotional investment into our creative work. It’s a part of us—not all of who we are, of course, but a definite piece.
Rejection is so painful some wordsmiths avoid the issue altogether by never getting on the submission train in the first place. For years, I was in a critique group with a talented writer. We kept encouraging her to submit her work. She never did, and to this day, I’m sad that I’m one of the only folks who got to enjoy her whimsical writing.
Other writers I know jump to self-publishing before submitting a word to a publishing house. But in my opinion, that just puts off the possibility of rejection. Suppose no one wants to buy your book except for your 39 relatives and friends, and the reviews are tepid or non-existent?
So what’s a writer to do?
Humor and a sense of perspective really help. Toward the end of this past year, award-winning short story writer and Seton Hill MFA faculty member Timons Esais commented on our Seton Hill list serve that he was worried: “I’m behind on my number of rejections for the year.”
I loved him saying that! What a wonderful way to look at the writer’s least favorite experience. Rejection means you’re writing—and working—and persevering. And it’s only when we persevere that we have any chance of getting a “yes” on a project.
The other thing I’ve found really helpful is to remember that the quality of our writing may have little to do with whether or not a project gets picked up. For prospective agents or publishers, the bottom line is whether a project seems likely to make money for them. It’s a business! I still remember one prospective agent I’d sent It Should Have Been You to telling me that she’d taken it with her to a conference and looked forward to reading it every night when she got back to her hotel room. She loved the voice, she said. But she didn’t want to represent it. “Mystery in YA is a tough sell right now,” she explained.
Alas, I’m no good at writing to trends, nor do I know many writers who are. Nothing to do but write what genuinely makes our socks roll up and down. Now, if there was just some way to keep those socks rolling up more often than down!