Friday, August 29, 2014

Treating the Pain of Rejection

You can't get a handful of rejections and stop submitting—that's not how publishing works. This is a game with more than a handful of players. Every great book has a best-fit publisher for it but you can't skim the pool and expect to net it with just a handful of attempts.

We have to accept the facts: most of us are going to have to make several submissions and face several rejections before we get the acceptance that our book deserves. Those rejections are going to hurt.

The treatment isn't easy, either. Over-the-counter analgesics provide little relief and self-medicating with alcohol only causes hangovers and the need for intense revisions later on. What's a poor writer to do?

The Treatment
The only way writers can avoid rejection is to avoid submitting work. Considering that abstinence is a pretty harsh therapy, I suggest you do the exact opposite: submit everything, submit often, submit everywhere. Kind of a hair-of-the-dog approach.

It's my homeopathic remedy to the rejection blues…keep submitting and eventually the sting of rejection goes away.

The principle of similars (or "like cures like") is a central homeopathic principle. The principle states that a disease can be cured by a substance that produces similar symptoms in healthy people.

Never mind that many studies have suggested that homeopathy is no more effective than placebo. But think about it: placebos that work prove that mind over matter works. Positive thinking works.

That's serious medicine for all writers.

Frequent exposure to rejection helps us build a tolerance. We develop thicker skins. Now, I am not suggesting we put out faulty work, poor writing, or sub-prime manuscripts for the sole purpose of amassing rejections. Our goal is acceptance, remember? Once you run out of agents on your list…then what?

Luckily, we can submit our work to places other than agents or editors.

Contests: A Litmus Test Before Submitting to Agents
When I finished my first novel, I wanted a litmus test before I started flinging it at agents. I wanted to toe the waters of publishing before of plunging in. I wanted to feel my way cautiously through the dark instead of bumbling through it.

Fortunately, I came across an article that described an author's journey to publication that suggested entering contests. I vowed to enter every contest I could for an entire year--but the practice proved so useful I never stopped.

Upsides to entering: Contests have judges who rate your work, as well as cool things like winners and prizes and glory. Remember—not everyone wins and most entrants end up with a contest-sized rejection.

However, the rejection is often of the personal variety. Look for contests that will return a score sheet (many post the score sheet on-line beforehand so you can see what you're going to get.) My favorite contests are those that encourage judges to leave comments. (I once got a twenty-five page entry back, line-edited. Thank you, free copy editor, because you saved me five dollars a page. *smiley*)

Contests also provided great feedback. When I first started entering contests, I had zero access to a writer’s critique group and an equally round number of beta-readers. The judges became my circle of well-meaning peers. Thanks to the feedback, I made some excellent revisions. (I also learned to ignore a lot of personal opinion, just like in a real group. That's part of building your immunity to rejection syndrome.)

Downsides? Sorry, but there are a few. Entry fees, first and foremost. For instance, some romance manuscript contests can cost anywhere from ten to fifty bucks a pop. Romance writers who belong to Romance Writers of America can often enter RWA contests for a discount; many writer group-sponsored contests offer similar discounts to their members. Despite the discounts, though, the fees add up.

Not winning is a downside, too, but here is where the homeopathy comes in. These contest-sized rejections can be crushing, especially if the judges shred your entry. Your resolve to be a writer has to be stronger than those negative forces. Most contests require their judges to provide ENCOURAGING feedback but there are judges who are simply not going to jive with your pages.

You may unwittingly get a lot of practice not taking rejection personally.

My advice is to do it one score sheet at a time. If a loss was so massively rejectional, put it down and come back to it when you're ready. Even the worst scores might come back with helpful suggestions and you may find something helpful once you've prepared yourself.

Keep in mind that these kinds of "rejections" cannot hurt you. They don't ruin your chances of getting your best work in front of a coveted agent or editor. In fact, they do the opposite: contest feedback may point out a flaw you missed, a spot of slow pacing, an opening that doesn't work the way you thought.

Most contests deal with opening pages or a first chapter—the same partial that an agent or editor would see. If a contest helps you improve those pages, it also improves your chances of being read further, thereby reducing the probability of a rejection.

So, in a nutshell: like cures like. See? It's all quite scientific.

I can handle rejection a lot better now than I did back when I first started to submit my work. I can handle judge's comments better, too, because after entering dozens of contests, I've had enough feedback to know what works, what doesn't, and what is subjective commenting vs. objective feedback.

Although I'm now published, I'm not safely past the point of pain--thanks to the realm of reviews. I've had a handful of reviewers who didn't love my books as much as I do, so day brings another opportunity to be "rejected" again. My experiences have made me stronger and more capable of handling adversity. I won't say I'm immune to the pain of rejection but, these days, it'll take a lot more than a "no" to cause a setback for me.

After all, if a thing doesn't kill you, it can only make you stronger, right?

And that's pretty much homeopathy.


Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who, despite having a Time Turner under her couch and three different sonic screwdrivers in her purse, still encounters difficulty with time management. Visit Ash at for news on her urban fantasy series The Books of the Demimonde (Pink Narcissus Press) or stop by . Ash is also a contributing editor at the QueryTracker blog.  .


Sue Coletta said...

It's funny you wrote about contests today. I was thinking of entering a Writers Village contest. Have you ever submitted to them?

Susan Clayton-Goldner said...

This is great advice. I also entered many contests before I started querying agents. In addition to the excellent feedback if you should happen to win or place, you have something to "brag" about in your query letter--something to make your submission stand out.

Saumya said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Saumya said...

Thank you for this great post!! Rejection is part of a writer's life but it's too easy to get bogged down by that.

Ash Krafton | @ashkrafton said...

I haven't, but it's a good addition to the List Of Things I Should Do Since Apparently I'm Procrastinating On My WIP. Thanks, Sue!

Ash Krafton | @ashkrafton said...

It's also a valid reason to "nudge" a slow reader. "Just wanted to let you know, this ms just won Bladitty-Dah-Dah-Dah. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!"