Bucking Up & Getting Over Rejection
It's a new month, and by the end of it, I'll have sent thirty-one query letters to literary agents pitching my latest manuscript, One Thing Better. It's my August goal and necessary for my motivation because it's damn hard trudging into the query trenches. It's the worst kind of job hunt. Overloaded with applicants, agents require perfection. Writers must stand out while fitting into each agent's wishlist, and who knows what'll be the next blockbuster, anyway? You're asking to get paid for work you've already done, no one asked you for, and your offering might as well be a piece of yourself for all the heart that went into it--your book-baby. Still, no matter the time and love went into it, or its quality, rejection is inevitable.
Not just inevitable, but statistically probable. It's well-known in writer circles that only about 4% of queries receive an "I'd like to see more." That's not even a YES; that's only an "I'm interested." The other 96% get rejected, either by email or no response period. *crickets*
Over the years, I've been in and out of the query trenches. I've even broken into the 4% a few times. That's when rejection stings the worst--getting a no AFTER being that close. It's like getting ghosted just as things get serious. Even so, I'm used to rejection. I HAVE to be. Rejection goes hand-in-hand with this career path.
And regular life, too. Not making the team or getting the part. Breakups. No's on schools, jobs, or other lost opportunities. If only's and why me's... we've all dealt with some rejection, and it's brutal.
But people struggle with rejection. Like, really struggle.
In a Netflix documentary called The Most Hated Man on the Internet, a love-scorn young man started a website where rejected people or haters, in general, could shame former love interests or anyone else by posting nude pics. The pics were then linked to the victim's social media and included personal info like phone numbers and addresses. The founder, Hunter Moore, called it "revenge porn" and didn't mind the devastation to the victims, personal and professional lives ruined in a few clicks.
And days ago, we heard this story about a politician in the Philippines who wants to make ghosting illegal as an "emotional offense." If you put a full stop to communication after breaking up, you're inflicting a trauma that could be punishable by law. I get it--no one likes being rejected in a relationship, but really?
Okay, these are extreme examples of "rejection revenge." But with my inevitable rejections looming... how are we supposed to handle rejection?
Grief has a 5-step process. Most people experience some loss early on that prepares them for loss later. The loss of a pet or grandparent, for example. There are books to help you through it, even for kids. And people are incredibly sympathetic, usually.
But when it comes to rejection, we aren't "taught" how to handle it growing up. Often, we're shielded from it entirely. When I was young, getting a trophy was a BIG deal because you earned it by winning something. When my kids were young, everyone got a trophy for participating. And this may be a petty example, but providing treat bags for everyone attending a child's birthday party was the new norm, like a consolation prize for not being the one getting the birthday presents. Is this etiquette for thanking party attendees or insurance that everyone gets a gift? Something to think about...
So, what's the "right" way to deal with it? While nothing can remove the sting of a painful rejection, there are ways to make it better and get over it quickly. Here's what's helped me through decades of rejection.
It's okay to feel bad about it. Things didn't go your way. There's no shame in pain, especially since it means that you cared about someone/something enough to risk rejection in the first place. You should feel bad--it'd be weird if you didn't. You've lost something you wanted, and now you're faced with a future different than you imagined.
“Only one attitude enabled me to move ahead. That attitude said, ‘Rejection can simply mean redirection.” — Maya Angelou
So, reflect and redirect. The best way to do that is to be future-forward, not harping on what went wrong. Take time for yourself, away from negative feelings.
Lean on (positive) loves. In the spirit of taking time for yourself, lean on what's gotten you through other rough times. Friends, family, spouses, pets. Binge-watching Poirot or Midsomer Murders or Murder, She Wrote. A weekend getaway. Exercise. Whatever brings you positive joy. I stress positive because many people, myself included, resort to bad habits after a rejection, like overeating, oversleeping, or drinking. This isn't helpful in the long run. Do things you always feel good about. Not what you'll regret the next day.
Remember, this moment is not all moments. A wall hanging in my childhood home read, "No matter how long the night, the day is sure to come." Yes, it feels bad right now, but it won't forever. Even the most terrible losses soften with time. With the initial rejection over, the worst part's done. Let the rest pass, too.
Rejection is a consequence of TRYING. Wouldn't you rather make the attempt? Putting yourself out there, allowing vulnerability and judgment--that's brave! And you'll never reach the dream without it.
"I pinned my 1st rejection letter to my kitchen wall because it gave me something in common with all my fave writers!" — J.K. Rowling
“I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.” — Sylvia Plath
So, try. Always try. And remember...
Today is a NO, but all it takes is ONE YES. And No's pave the way for Yeses. If this job, girlfriend, or literary agent didn't work out, then the door swings open to others that will. Rarely do people marry their first loves, stay forever at their first job, or sell their first book. If this one didn't happen, another one will. One YES, the right YES, negates all the NO's.
So, might as well...
Let it go. This isn't just a song from Frozen, but good advice. Holding onto rejection-anger hurts YOU most of all. Consider rejection a wound that needs tending to; if you don't deal with it the right way, it could cause a bitter infection, seeping into other areas of your life.
In the early days of my writing life, rejections brought on tears, bad days, and less productivity. Letting it get to me meant it got into everything. My work, my mood, and my relationships. It's better, much better, to let it go and move on.
And moving on gives you the space to think objectively... because...
Maybe it's you. Don't take that wrong--you're worthy of love, happiness, success, whatever. But nobody's perfect. Any rejection should help us analyze our imperfections.
I get it now--why I was rejected in my early days. I wasn't ready, and my manuscripts weren't either. A query letter I sent in college for my first novel received a scribbled note from an agent... "Don't be so wishy-washy! You don't even have a title!" *SMH* It's true... I hadn't even given my book a title! Such a newbie!
I had to learn how and when to submit properly. I had to become a better editor and hone my craft. I had to write better books. Once the sting of rejection numbed, I focused on being a better writer. It's led me closer and closer and... And still, I'm always looking for ways to improve.
Of course, this is harder to accept if it's a personal rejection. But looking back at guys who broke my heart then makes me thankful now. Getting stuck in one of those bad relationships could've prevented me from the best one... and I've been married to Joe for twenty-five years! Those No's paved the way for a much happier YES.
But if you're still struggling, even after time, leaning on your loves, reflecting, and redirecting, then...
Therapy isn't a bad word. Get help. If you've given your recovery time and effort but don't feel better, reach out to a professional. Recently, a good friend told me that she'd been seeing a therapist to let go of some anger over a relationship that ended years ago. She hadn't even realized how much those residual feelings held her back, and now that she's dealt with it, she's more optimistic about future dating.
And giving therapy a try is much healthier than internet-shaming, pressing charges, or allowing bitterness to get the best of you.
Can you imagine how different the literary landscape would be now if J.K. Rowling gave up after reaching double digits in rejections or, hell, if Stephen King went all Carrie-like after getting his?
“By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.” — Stephen King
So, as I re-enter the querying trenches, I refuse to be mired down in rejections, at least not for long. If I don't give up, every rejection is one step closer to the right acceptance.
For more about writers and rejection, check out this article on overcoming it. For more on coping with rejection generally, here's a good article from Psychology Today (they're the professionals, not me).
We're all in this together, so share your rejection story below, and I'll keep you updated on mine. 31 queries by August 31st may lead to 31 rejections, but that only means I'll do more in September.