Rejections are an inevitable part of the process of seeking publication. And there is usually something to be learned from the process. Rejection is, in one way, a form of feedback, and how you manage this type of feedback, how you interpret a ‘rejection’, is important in terms of surviving and thriving as a writer.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, or dispirited, take a break from it all. Or spend some time with other writers to know that you are not alone. Rejection can spur you on to improve your work, and can make you more determined. It’s also, let’s face it, just part of the writing life. Even if you have several published books under your belt.
Psychotherapist and writer Bryan E. Robinson brings the idea of surviving rejection back to resilience. He says,
‘Resilient writers think of success and rejection as a package deal: If we want to accept writing success when it comes, we must be willing to accept writing defeat when it happens. And that doesn’t mean forfeiting our craft. Resilient writers cultivate the mindset that writing disappointments happen for us, instead of to us. They make it a goal to welcome writing setbacks, no matter how painful, frustrating, big or small—as lessons from which to learn. They ask, “What can I manage or overcome here?” or “How can I turn this matter around to my advantage?’
I was talking with Jessie Cole a few years back about her experience of writing the memoir Staying, her third published book. I knew it had been the first manuscript she had completed, and asked her about how it had changed since she’d first written it. Jessie said it changed a lot and was an incredibly difficult and painful process. Her agent had said it was too long and needed to be distilled. And this was difficult and painful not just because she had to go over and over the content, which is emotionally intense, but because her agent kept rejecting it, saying no, it still wasn’t ready.
Jessie would work on it some more and then send it off again. Each time, her confidence eroded and she became less and less sure she could do it. Finally, after many, many months, her agent said, you need to cut 15,000 more words. It was an unexpected and enormous task.
Jessie switched on her determination and went ‘Right, I’ll show you.’ In a matter of weeks she had hacked and pared and honed and distilled and cut 15,000 words.
The response to the new, slim version was ‘It’s ready’, and after feeling that her agent had been ready to discard her, she was now the shining star. It had been a case of tough love. Her agent sent the work off to multiple publishers and they all wanted it. There was a bit of a bidding war, and Jessie was able to choose who she wanted to go with. In the end, she didn’t choose the publisher offering the most money, but chose the publisher who wanted the least number of changes!