Coping with Rejection

During World Read Aloud Day, a student asked me:

Have you been rejected before and how did you deal with the disappointment?

First of all:

Unfortunately, rejection is part of life as a writer. It’s extremely rare for an author’s first published novel to also be the first book they’ve written, particularly in traditional publishing. The process involves:

  1. Writing & revising the novel (a huge accomplishment!)
  2. Querying literary agents & signing with one
  3. Going on submission to publishers & one of them signing your book

That is a really shortened version that skips all kinds of angst that happens in between, including tons of–you guessed it–rejection. It can take years to get through each of these steps. In my case, step two took seven years. Before Your Life Has Been Delayed, I queried six different books and was rejected more than 600 times. Here’s how those stats broke down:

There are more rejections than queries because some of those partial requests turned into full requests before rejections, and four of those full requests turned into R&Rs before rejections. Anyway, the math does work, I promise!

I didn’t track the stats for YLHBD because it was quite a whirlwhind. If you’d like to read more about my querying experience, I have a series about what I learned each year here on my blog. You can find the last entry here: What I’ve Learned in Seven Years of Querying. To read about signing with my agent a few months later: I Have An Agent. You can also find other posts about querying on my Resources page.

While I have quite a bit of distance now from the querying rejection, there are still many other kinds of rejection that occur as a published author:

  • Lack of sales
  • Lack of reviews
  • Bookstores failing to stock the book
  • Negative reviews in which the author is tagged (please never do this!)
  • Subsequent books that don’t come together or don’t sell
  • Self-promotion that seems to go nowhere
  • Not being invited to a festival/event

I could definitely add more to this list, but I don’t like to dwell on the rejection–hey, that’s part of how I cope with it! So let’s move on to that.

With both querying rejection and the kind that comes post-publication, the biggest thing is to PERSEVERE. I’m a pretty stubborn person in general. If I say I’m going to do something, I stick to it. I was determined to become a traditionally published author, so I kept working at it until I wrote the right book at the right time. Here are a few other ways I continue to survive rejection:

Prayer

Lots of it. My faith has gotten me through so many tough rejections and helped me to move forward and trust God’s plan for me and my writing career.

Write the next thing

When I finish one project, I always start another one. It’s much easier let go of a project that isn’t connecting (with agents/editors/readers/whoever), if you’re already falling in love with another one. Right now, I have two projects in progress–one I’m revising for my agent and another I’ve started drafting. I have a long list of other potential projects waiting to be written.

Manage the feedback I see

While querying, I set boundaries for myself.

  • Created a separate email address for querying so that I wasn’t surprised by a rejection mixed in with other correspondence.
  • Turned off notifications, then only checked the querying email once a day.

When getting feedback from other writers, I’m clear up front about the kind of feedback I’m seeking. It can be discouraging to receive detailed line edits if all I want is a general read on whether the book makes sense. Here are some tips if you’re struggling with feedback:

  • If you’re working with a new reader, exchange a couple of chapters first to see if you’re a fit.
  • Send specific questions you’d like answered about the MS.
  • Let them know whether you’re looking for big picture feedback or line edits.

Finally, on reviews: being published is the dream we’re working toward, but not everyone’s going to like the book, and that’s okay. I learned a valuable lesson early on: DON’T SEARCH OUT REVIEWS. I don’t even open Goodreads. It’s not for me; it’s for readers. Reading the one-star reviews (because they exist for every published book) eats into my soul. And yes, I’ve heard that one reader’s single-star review may make another reader pick up the book. Still, it’s not good for my mental health. On the other hand…

Celebrate wins

Since there is so much rejection in this industry, it’s important to celebrate when something great happens. Every time a reader sends me an email or tags me in a post about what one of my books meant to them, I celebrate! When I finish writing something new, I celebrate! When a writer friend releases a new book, I celebrate! Back when I was querying, I celebrated those partial and full requests–or even the encouraging rejections. Within the past two weeks, I had a couple of readers reachout about recently discovering and connecting with Your Life Has Been Delayed–and one message I had to translate from Portuguese. So fun!

 

Do something else

As much as I love writing, sometimes I just need to get away from it and explore a different creative outlet. I play the violin in a community orchestra and at church, cross-stitch, play board games with my family, read (of course!), attend the theater, and watch too much TV. It helps me recharge and get over the rejection.

But, you know, in general, I’m a glass half full kind of person. So one rejection usually leads to another opportunity…


My June newsletter is out today. Check it out for a character feature, why libraries are awesome, and what I’m currently watching and reading.

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