Pretty much everyone knows that most people who have become successful originally started from the bottom then made their way up. It’s a fact of life – one should work hard to achieve their dreams. These dreams become the individual’s drive to do something, motivating and making them soldier on regardless of how many failures and rejections get in the way.
Soldiering on is, of course, easier said than done. Just as it’s a fact of life that we’ll get rejected a lot over the years, whether it’s for a job or for a manuscript that we’re trying to get published, it’s also a fact of life that it’s not easy to deal with. Far from it, really. Rejection the first or second or nth time may be enough to get you to think that maybe what you’re doing isn’t really for you, and there’s no point in going on and walking the same path. Of course, some may have an easier time accepting rejection more than others. Still, whoever you are, it helps to understand the possible reasons why your work is getting rejected – and then rising up from the ashes and moving on from there.
So let’s get started. Rejection needs no introduction – it simply means that your work is not deemed fit for publishing, for reasons that probably won’t be disclosed to you. It doesn’t mean that what you’ve written isn’t good. It just means, perhaps, that what you’ve written doesn’t fit the vision that the agents you’ve sent your work to are envisioning. It certainly helps to have that mindset. So first, you do have to try and understand what goes on in the selection process, and then understand why you get rejected – and really, it’s not personal. In the article “25 Things Writers Should Know About Rejection,” author Chuck Wendig gives some twenty-five excellent things writers should be aware of when faced with rejection. It’s a list worth reading – especially if you need someone to help you shape up after the initial rejections you’ve received – but the last item is particularly valuable and worth taking into heart:
A writer without rejections under his belt is the same as a farmer with soft hands; you shake that dude’s hand and you know, he’s not a worker, not a fighter, and wouldn’t know the value of his efforts if they came up and stuck a Garden Weasel up his ass. Rejections are proof of your efforts. Be proud to have ‘em.
It’s great advice, something to keep in mind, and something that can help you get back up and start writing again. Or at least begin reading whatever you’ve sent, now with an objective eye and a heart open to the flaws that your work has. Rejections are, as Wendig says, a sign that you’re doing something – and the more you do something, the more you improve on it, right? In a way, yes – but also learn from the rejections and try to understand what you’ve done wrong.
With that said, what could be the actual reasons why agents reject author submissions, in the first place? Like I said earlier, it’s not really personal – and novelist and photjournalist Heather Hummel talks about this in her blog post for The Huffington Post, “Why Agents Reject 96% of Author Submissions.” Reasons can range from something simple as spelling and grammar (which should be reason enough for you to stop procrastinating and proofread your work!) to concerns like genre confusion and weak query letters. These more, say, technical concerns may easily be forgotten in the process of actually writing your work – and may be something you fail to remember when you decide to get out and submit it to different publishers. Remember that there’s more to writing than actually writing your work – and that the more you familiarize yourself with important concerns as submission guidelines and query letters, the better your chances may be of getting accepted.
Now let’s recap what we’ve said so far. Rejection is not personal, and there are many reasons why you can get rejected. Now it’s easier for you to look back and see what you’ve done wrong, and start working again! But hold up – maybe there’s something else stopping you, and it’s probably that nagging sense of doubt that you won’t be able to get your work published, anyway. Well don’t worry – I’ve already said earlier that a lot of people who are successful had to work hard for it. You probably know it already but wouldn’t believe it still, but many big-name authors whose work have gone on to become classics or bestsellers have experienced rejection, the same way you’re experiencing it now.
Okay, so who are these authors, exactly? A quick Google search will lead you to a lot of lists detailing how authors got rejected by publishers. Alice Vincent’s article on The Telegraph, “The rejection letters: how publishers snubbed 11 great authors,” is one such informative list. You’ll find that all manner of writers – from T.S. Eliot to J.K. Rowling – have been rejected, one way or another. Stephen King’s Carrie, for example, was rejected by a publisher, because they were “not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” Of course we all know by now how big Stephen King is, or how successful Carrie has become – even spawning movie adaptations. Herman Melville’s Moby Dick was also rejected by Peter J. Bentley, who wrote: “While this is a rather delightful, if somewhat esoteric, plot device, we recommend an antagonist with a more popular visage among the younger readers. For instance, could not the Captain be struggling with a depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous, maidens?”
There are more lists on successful people getting rejected – whether they’re writers or not. “20 Brilliant Authors Whose Work Was Initially Rejected,” on Buzzfeed, and the article “Best-Sellers Initially Rejected” on LitRejections, are two such pages showing you that, yes, people who are big now had to struggle with rejection before. Lists like these should help put things into perspective – if or when you get rejected, just remember that you’re part of a long line of authors who had been rejected initially, but had found their way up afterwards.
So there. Hopefully this pretty long article has helped you to ultimately understand, cope with, and move forward from rejection. Again, all this is much, much easier said than done. But just keep your eyes on the prize, and eventually you’ll get to where you want to be.
Did you like this article on rejection? Or maybe you know more articles about successful writers who got rejected? Whatever your thoughts are on the subject, share it with us in the comments, or tweet us at @creativwriters!