Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Healing through rejection

You might be thinking, Okay, there's a weird title. She must have meant healing from rejection.

I don't.

Many have experienced the healing power of writing in a journal. Spilling carefully guarded emotions onto the page can be frightening at first, but once you have survived doing so you feel stronger. More yourself. Reading your truest thoughts is fortifying; like drinking your own blood. 

Building deeply felt emotions into a story and then submitting it for publication is a whole new level of scary. The agents you submit to are not only industry professionals with informed opinions as to what will sell, but as passionate and voracious readers they are your ideal audience. So when you meet with rejection it's hard to know which is worse--getting a form rejection letter stating your project wasn't right for their agency or a personalized letter stating why the public won't embrace it. Either way, it felt like you slit a vein in public and the agent didn't connect with your blood type. It can make the most heath conscious among us want to curl up on the couch with a gallon of Häagen Dazs and say to hell with it all.

Yet an inner voice nags: you feel that you do have something to say that's worth sharing. What to do?
  • Make sure that your panic concerning publication failure isn't premature. Leave no stone unturned. Your best prospects may be used up, but do you have a second tier of agents to submit to? A third? Have you submitted to new agents in your genre without a track record? Have you contacted every agent who has ever represented a book remotely similar to yours?
  • Have you made the book the very best it can be? Have you attempted to decode personal messages within personalized rejection letters for ways you might be able to improve it? (I grant that this is useful in a limited number of instances, because the notes are hastily written after the agent has decided not to represent you.)
  • Many books are rejected because the agent can't figure out where this book fits on the bookseller's shelves. Are you willing to make changes to better fit the market? There's no one right answer to this question, it's just a matter of knowing yourself. If you make concessions you might move farther along the path to publication. If you can't force yourself to make the changes, then you are happy on the path your writing is taking you down, publication or no.
  • Remember that each project stands on its own. Your writing is a journey but each project is judged on its own merits. Try to erase the tally on the rejection chalkboard with the submission of each project—it is the project they are rejecting, not you. 
  • If you want to be published traditionally—meaning you've decided against self-publishing—you can't "make" it happen. You must wait your turn, whatever that entails. There are economic pressures at play that you cannot control.
If you are a submitting writer, stuck in the nether region between form rejection and infrequent personal rejection—or perhaps you've been told you're a good writer but just can't seal the deal—keep in mind that thousands of writers will seek publication this year and never receive the courtesy of a form rejection letter.

Hundreds of thousands of writers will seek publication this year and never be told that they are good writers.

Hundreds of thousands of people will seek publication this year and never be the recipient of a brief analysis of why the book didn't work for this one particular agent.

Many will abandon their dream in a huff.

Most will not have the grace to allow for indeterminate variables and fail to preserve hope by allowing for the outside chance that the publisher may not be looking for something just like their project at this time, and they will do so because cynicism is just a whole lot easier.

Some will take a good hard look at the pros and cons of seeking publication and have to admit that the cons are growing and that they are no longer happy—a good reason to redirect focus.

A determined handful will heal through rejection. They will eat that gallon of ice cream, return to the keyboard, and continue with the writing that gives their life meaning. They will look to their writing friends who are in a more hopeful part of the submission/rejection cycle to lift them up. They will live life trying to bring their publication dream to fruition. They will become strong in themselves in both a private and public way. They will become better writers.

I believe that in this world there is one resource that is always renewable.


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