Friday, August 14, 2009


Rejection. There's nothing that stings so sharply. From the time you were a kid and none of the other kids would play with you, to the Jr Prom when your date ditched you for someone more popular, rejection has been bruising our egos. If you decide to become an artist, you will be dancing with the barbed-wire of rejection on a daily basis.

What do you do when you produce your best work and the only thing you get for your efforts is a big fat NO scrawled on a form letter? What do you do when you keep getting that big fat NO 100 times?

Before you decide you're a terrible artist who should never write again and start drinking Jack Daniels in your underwear at 2 pm, wait. I'm going to tell you a secret about rejection. And then I'm going to give you some steps to help defy those rejections

Those rejections are written by people and because they are people they are only giving you their opinion. A person's opinion is not gospel. It is their gospel, not everyone's. Not only that, a person's opinion can change, sometimes hourly. They may have read your proposal at 9 am after a big fight with their boyfriend, so they hate everything on their desk at that moment. But if they'd read your proposal at noon, after the boyfriend called to apologize, they instantly loved everything on their desk, including your proposal.

It's an unfair, subjective, process combing through query letters, and to make it all worse, you are one of a thousand who have sent in a query that week. There's no way you won't get 100 rejections.

But what about those 100 rejections? Should you just ignore them and declare all editors and agents are morons?

Absolutely not. Those rejection letters are trying to tell you something, so pay attention. Your query letter may be boring, or has a spelling error. Because of the overwhelming mass of writers all vying for an agents time, the agents are looking for any reason to ignore a query letter, so make sure it is 100% perfection.

Or maybe your book isn't as great as you think it is. No, I'm not saying your a bad artist! I am encouraging you to take a step back and evaluate it with the keen eye of a master artist. A work of art can always be made better, just ask Michelangelo as he was finishing the Sistine Chapel. Your writing may be wonderful, but how is the plot? Are there places where the writing is dull or bogged down with too much description, or not enough? Does it start with a strong scene, or lovely prose that doesn't really grab the reader's attention? Use those rejection letters as an opportunity to rethink your project.

I wrote a novel and sent it to an agent I met at a writer's conference. When I pitched the idea and showed her a sample of my writing she loved it. So I was pretty confident that when I sent her the entire book she'd send me a contract. Wrong. She sent me a lovely rejection letter, praising my writing skill, but "I'm not in love with it." I burst into tears and swore I'd never write again. After the despair (and the Jack Daniels) wore off I took another look at my novel and discovered I had written a boring book. Great characters. Compelling idea. Lovely writing. Boring plot.

I set the book aside and after five years I only now feel that I have the skills to fix this book and make it great.

Never give up. Believe in the work, but be honest with yourself. Delusion can be worse than rejection.

And the good news is, you don't have to rely on an agent or a publisher anymore. You can do it yourself, or work with a micro press who may be more willing to work with a new author. Like me.

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