Friday, August 3, 2012

The Fine Art of Being Rejected

The Fine Art of Being Rejected
Guest Post by Merry Farmer
There are only two certainties in life: death and taxes.  But if you’re a writer, there are three: death, taxes, and rejection.  Yep, if you’re a writer, no matter what your genre, no matter what your experience level, you are going to be rejected at some point.

Ugh!  It’s not something we like to think about.  It is, however, something we have to learn to live with.  Rejection starts early in a writer’s journey and it follows you through your entire career and beyond.  It doesn’t have to be something that lands us in bed with a pint of double fudge brownie ice cream though.  Rejection can actually be the most powerful tool a writer has to improve on a variety of levels.

The first rejection that most writers experience is critique.  It would be wonderful if everything we wrote was gorgeous prose destined to become the stuff of legend.  Unfortunately, that just doesn’t happen.  A far more likely scenario is that we pour our heart out into a deliciously mediocre first draft with lots of potential and room for growth.  Then we give it to other people, whether that’s a critique group or beta readers or blurbs posted online for feedback.

The job of a critique group or beta readers is not to tell you that you’re wonderful.  It’s to give your work a fair assessment and to point out the areas that need more work.  The rejection of your words the first time around isn’t a defeat by any means.  It’s the starting point of a fantastic journey.  I’ve heard stories of some critique groups where a writer has gotten so painfully upset, and argumentative, by that first round of feedback that their peers are afraid to give them any further advice.  That’s not going to get you anywhere in the long run though.

A similar thing happens with feedback from editors.  They’re not going to tell you that you’ve written a masterpiece.  They’re going to point out the warts in your story.  But if you have the right editor, this rejection is a major step in the right direction.  I love my editor (Alison Dasho) for her ability to send me massive letters detailing everything I’ve done wrong in my manuscript … and to make me feel excited and energized about plodding through the hard work of revisions.  I listen to her, work with her suggestions, and ninety-nine times out of a hundred I make the changes she suggests.

Now comes the next kind of rejection.  I was once told that the minimum agent submission ratio was twelve rejections for every one acceptance.  Yes, this means that if you’re taking the traditional publishing route you’re going to get twelve flat-out no’s for every one request for a partial or full manuscript, let alone a full yes.  Aspiring authors may be some of the most rejected people on the planet this way.

Sending out all those submissions and getting all those no’s teaches us patience and perseverance.  And believe me, if you’re going to get any more deeply involved in this world, you’re going to need to learn patience and perseverance.  Writing is one of the slowest-moving, subjective pursuits I can think of.  Nothing happens overnight and even less happens without constant, steady striving towards your end goal.  Even if you choose to self-publish you’re going to have to push yourself.  The effort of being a writer doesn’t stop when you click “publish” on any given eBook site. 

Also along those lines, as anyone who has ever submitted to an agent or editor and gotten a lovely form letter of rejection in reply, the submissions process teaches you how to deal with the frustration of getting an answer that isn’t an answer.  It would be so nice if each agent or editor that rejected us could, like our editor or critique group, give us a long explanation of everything in our story that didn’t work for them.  Instead we experience the joy of learning how to cope with an anonymous no.  It toughens your skin, gives you a sense of the scope of what you’re doing, and prepares you for the biggest rejection of all….

Bad reviews.  The worst rejection there is.  You’ve done all the work, jumped through all the hoops, and if you’re a self-publisher you’ve paid all the money to create what you hope is the best book possible.  Then bam!  Someone comes along and pans it in public.  Break out the double fudge brownie ice cream!

Nothing compares to that first mediocre review.  I remember mine vividly.  But I also think that my first bad review was one of the most valuable that I’ve ever gotten.  I had a very kind reader who included in her review all of the things she thought I had done wrong.  Nothing could have been better.  Because two out of three of her points were spot-on.  I do tend to overuse certain words.  But thanks to that review those words are on my radar.  That reviewer taught me something that will make me a better writer with every word I write … or with every word that I delete after writing. 

The fact is that none of us are perfect.  We’re not going to write a Pulitzer every time.  Not even Pulitzer winners write a Pulitzer every time.  In fact, I’m sure if you were to look at reviews for most prize-winning novels you would find several that question the sanity of anyone who would vote for that particular book.  Not only does every writer have room for improvement, we all write in different styles and have different tastes.  Sometimes our books end up in the hands of readers who just don’t get it.

And this is the most valuable lesson of all.  It’s nothing personal.  A bad review is not a judgment about your character as a human being and an assessment of your right to be on this planet.  Of course, as a writer it’s hard to remember that from time to time.  We like to think that we are what we write and that a negative comment about our baby is a black mark against our character.  Fortunately, it’s not. 

Writing is a sadistic occupation.  We put ourselves out there with an intensity that few people really understand.  That’s why it’s important for each of us to listen to the critiques and to integrate that advice.  The point is to become a better writer and to keep writing.  So don’t let the negative words get you down.  For every rotten review there will be someone out there who thinks you’re a genius.  Don’t listen to either of those people.  Listen to your heart and keep writing.

About the author: 
Merry Farmer is an award-winning novelist who lives in suburban Philadelphia with her two cats, Butterfly and Torpedo. She has been writing since she was ten years old and realized one day that she didn't have to wait for the teacher to assign a creative writing project to write something. It was the best day of her life. She then went on to earn not one but two degrees in History so that she would always having something to write about. Today she is a giant History nerd and a hopeless romantic waiting for her own love story to start. Her first book, The Loyal Heart, is a swashbuckling Medieval Historical Romance involving a love triangle that will keep you guessing.  Both The Loyal Heart and its sequel, The Faithful Heart, are available wherever eBooks are sold.  The third book in the trilogy, The Courageous Heart, will be available sometime this Fall.  She has also begun a new Western Historical Romance series set in Montana in 1805.  The first of that series, Our Little Secrets, is now available.  The second, Fool for Love, will be released in early 2013.  Merry is also passionate about blogging, knitting, and cricket and is working towards becoming an internationally certified cricket scorer.

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This post is part of a weekly feature of guest posts about various topics related to writing and publishing. If you are interested in doing a guest post, please contact me.

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