I’ve been rejected more times than I can count. No, I am not exaggerating. You’ve heard stories of how J.K. Rowling was rejected perhaps a few dozen times? Stephen King perhaps as many, or more? Tales like that make me wonder what people are genuinely considering to be “rejection.” Perhaps they mean rejection letters from publishing houses alone. Because if you take literary agents into consideration—the people you must contract with before even beginning to seek the attention of a publisher—my rejections number in the several thousands. Several. Thousands. Let that sink in for a moment.
I gave up counting after around 1,800 or so. (And, yes, I kept lists). I kept similar lists for poetry submissions as well, so those of you submitting shorter works know what I’m talking about, too. Was my work terrible? No, although it would be comforting to think so. In fact, during the years of these thousands of rejections for my fiction, I did sign with five different agents, each of whom held a certain amount of faith that my novel du jour would sell. And during my years of thousands of poetry submissions, I have had over thirty poems published. Each one of those was only a drop in a bucket—yet cause for celebration. Sure, I have yet to make that elusive best-selling novel deal, or turn a great story into a Hollywood movie on the big screen, or collect my poetry into a published manuscript that I can read aloud from at my local bookstore. Nonetheless I feel fairly rewarded by my journey thus far.
Why? Because I learned so much along the way. Rejections can be what used to be called a “PRS”—a printed rejection slip, and those are like a blank face or a cold shoulder. Luckily, they mean as little as an anonymous comment on the internet. They don’t reflect a thing about your work, or about the real you. Ignore them and keep on going. Then there are the rejections that teach you something you did not know before about your own work. Sometimes you believed you’d paid attention to theme, or language, or character, while a reader didn’t feel it come through. Then you can go back through your work with these fresh eyes implanted in your skull, and have one of those wonderful “A ha!” moments. There are also the most frustrating rejections of all: the ones that cannot fault you or your writing for the world, but for one reason or other the publisher does not feel qualified to sell your work. Oh, those will make you gnash your teeth! But take a breath and think. Wouldn’t you rather be with someone who felt competent with your work in their hands? You need to just buckle down and keep searching for that right click. So how did I make it through all of those rejections? For one thing, I counted every one of the small successes along the way. Each time I signed with an agent, even the ones who eventually had to let me go due to one reason or another, it was a professional who had believed in me. Luckily, I am happy to say I have found at long last the agent who truly believes in me, and whom I believe in, in return. It is the perfect click. Now, together as a team, we are searching for the publishing house that will also be the right home for not only my work, but for me. Remember, selling a book professionally is a many-step process. At some point, you will begin to find the places that feel right to you. And the other thing I did? I GOT MAD. (Never rude! Remain professional, no matter the circumstances). In short, I said to myself, “Does this person determine who I am, or what I’m worth? Heck, I’ll show you!” I would get a furious energy all through me as I poured through name after name of agencies or magazines. Odd though it may sound, righteous anger gave me the energy to continue. I didn’t have time to sulk or feel bad about my capabilities. I had queries to write.
And so do you.