The Process: Beautiful Rejection
It happens to us all.
Rejection. You were the last one picked for dodgeball on the play ground; your desired prom date said “That's so sweet! But, I'm going with someone else.” We've all been there.
If you're going to do this thing called writing you're going to encounter rejection, probably more than acceptance, at least at first.
There are inspiring stories out there of writers who vomited out their first manuscript, sent it off with barely a revision and landed a publishing contract. For each of those are thousands of bestselling authors who suffered dozens of rejections before finding success. For each of those are thousands more who wrote good manuscripts and, for whatever reason, the publisher chose to not to accept.
Rejection is not a mark of the quality of your work, nor is acceptance for that matter. One of those success stories that comes to mind involves an author whose lengthy novels for teens are not particularly spectacular, but capture some element of teenage angst that resonates with her readers and led to her novels becoming a worldwide bestselling phenomenon. Other bestselling authors who ended up winning multiple awards were rejected as many as sixty times or more.
Rejection is, however, a vital step in the process as a writer.
That aforementioned teen-angst novelist could have done with a bit of rejection, as her work, while lengthy, is light on depth.
Rejection forces you to get better, to work harder at your craft and refine it.
I recently dug up a manuscript of mine that was rejected a few years ago, and I was appalled at how many mistakes I'd made. The writing was verbose, the flow was choppy and I would probably not have continued reading past the first page if it wasn't my manuscript. Ironically I got some great feedback from the publisher with that rejection that gave me the encouragement I needed. But that rejection also forced me to tighten up my work.
Unless you have an IQ of 200 or are transcribing revelation from the Almighty chances are your work needs some work.
Here's a blunt bit of truth: Your work is not as good as you think it is.
Here's another blunt bit of truth: Your work might be better than you think it is.
Am I talking out of both sides of my mouth? No.
Chances are that novel you've been laboring over for months, maybe years has some great stuff in it. I'm talking mind-blowing turns of phrase, and really snazzy character development. It's also probably got some horribly cliched dialogue, a one dimensional character or two, and a hundred grammatical errors and misspellings you've over looked every time you read them.
You see, when you read your manuscript you both read it and you don't. You read it, but in your head you know what you meant to say, so your brain kind of glosses over a few things that would jump out to any other reader. So, while you labor and labor over your manuscript, there will come a point when you have to share it with someone.
This is perhaps the most anxiety inducing thing you will ever do besides wait for lab results. You will hit send on that email, or hand someone a neatly printed copy of your baby and wait on pins and needles for them to tell you what they think . Side note: no matter how many times you go over it, it's after you've hit send, handed it over, or (in my case) published, that you'll catch yet another mistake you missed.
This stage in the game is full of angst and worry but it's essential. That person (ideally persons) will spot the errors you missed and will be able to tell you if your heroine is as vivacious and charming as you think she is.
You should also choose people who will be honest. Your parents and spouse may not be those people.
Invariably this process means someone will tell you something you don't want to hear. Maybe that beloved scene goes on too long, maybe that clever plot twist isn't so clever, maybe your story is cliché and needs to be reworked.
You will likely have one very potent initial response to criticism, and that's to defend your baby like a lioness on the Serengeti. But, if you show your work to enough people, and have a diverse enough pool of people for your test audience, you should start to hear certain things repeated. Not everyone has the same tastes, and one person may not like this or that character because it reminds them of someone they hate. Or they may not like this or that scene because....well...it reminds them of someone they hate. If, however, you get ten people all telling you that you need to change something, chances are pretty good that you need to change it.
There is also one possibility you may need to consider: your writing is bad, really bad. That does not mean you need to stop writing, it means you need to learn to write more gooder.
In any event you won't know until someone reads it.
If you want to write for the sheer joy of it, then journaling is for you. If you want to be published, then you need to understand one simple truth: no matter how much you love your book, if no one else loves it, you're career is going to be very short.
The book industry is dependent on two very distinct parties. Those who create the books, and those who buy them. Those who create the books do it for the love of it, and also for the money.
Those who buy the books do so because they want to be entertained or educated. Those who create the books (publishers) have spent or should have spent a great deal of time figuring out what those who buy the books want. That way they can give them what they want, thereby increasing the chance that they will buy what they want, and the book makers get paid and everyone is happy.
So, all those editors, agents, publishers etc have spent a lot of time figuring out what will sell, so chances are, if they're not accepting your work then it's because they don't think it will sell.
Now, is it possible that they're wrong? Yes. The 60+ people who rejected Madeleine L'Engle must be kicking themselves, as are those who rejected J.K. Rowling, John Grisham, and The Beatles.
It is also possible that your book is fantastic, but a risk that a publisher is unwilling to take. If that's the case, they'll probably tell you.
Remember that rejection I mentioned a few paragraphs ago? It came with a personal response from the editor. She told me she liked it, but she also told me what didn't work in my book, and that ultimately it didn't fit with her company's lineup. She also said if I chose to write something more suited to their lineup, she wanted to see it, and that my writing showed promise. She made it a point to tell me she liked my work, but that it wasn't quite ready, and wasn't for them.
Now, I chose to self-publish my debut novel (not the reject novel bee-tee-dub) for several reasons. But I sent it through a rigorous review and critique process first.
I gave it to a diverse sampling of friends, men and women, young and less so, across all walks of life.
What emerged was, a fairly accurate assessment of my work. There were a few things everyone agreed on, and a few things that were unique to each reader.
The point was, I let myself be vulnerable and set myself up to be rejected.
You can neglect this process. The internet is stuffed with bad writing (REALLY bad writing) from authors who got offended when someone criticized their masterpiece, and self-published to “show the world” just how great they really are.
Separate your emotions from your work. I know that's hard and I struggle with it myself. However, someone's criticism of your art, is not a criticism of your validity as a human being. At least it shouldn't be, and if it is then they're a mean person who deserves to have monkey poo flung at them. Listen to what people have to say, weigh it, talk about it with those you trust to be honest with you. If you find it to be true, consider what it means for your manuscript. If you find that snarky critique is the result of heartburn and gas, then dismiss it and move on.
But you must take the risk. You must face rejection; sweet, beautiful rejection. It will strengthen your own position on your work, and force you to make your work the best it can be.