HOW TO UNDERSTAND AND COPE WITH REJECTION



Rejection is as much a part of any writer’s life as food and water, or paper and correct spelling, if you prefer. This is true no matter how successful a writer is, although rejection is somewhat different to a millionaire with many books published, compared to a writer learning the craft without publication. No one enjoys having one’s writing rejected, either by refusal from an agent, editor, or publisher, or even mere criticism.

How can we cope?

I believe the most effective and hopeful coping is rooted in knowledge and attitude. Please consider:

1. Neither agents, editors, nor publishers are necessarily qualified, effective, or even competent critics or judges of good writing, which is a somewhat though not entirely subjective concept, of course. Many of these professionals are businesspeople plain and simple. Agents are primarily and often exclusively salespeople, who make a living by selling the stories of writers. Editors generally have an understanding of what good writing is and how it’s accomplished, but they may sometimes be professionals solely motivated to make writing palatable to a readership, regardless of written merit. Publishers are in the business of selling books, and sometimes little or nothing else.

Consider the overwhelming preponderance of books and magazine articles (not to mention teleplays and screenplays) published. Are they generally meritous or enjoyable, or are they trash, to be candid? They are mostly poor, fleetingly entertaining or diverting at best, but poorly written and forgettable. They range from tabloid newspapers to popular magazines to “blockbuster” novels, and nowadays, much of it isn’t even writing, at least in the traditional sense – there is no goal of excellence, or design of beauty or meaningfulness, no involvement of ideas or discussion, and no exercise of skill or writing grace. In fact, many articles and novels now are built not by writers but by committees of researchers and hacks, who fulfill needs of saleable commodity marketing and sale. These products are no different from bottled soda, soap, or motor oil.

Please remember this. Only a qualified writing expert, such as another writer or teacher or learned critic, can legitimately pass judgment on your writing. You wouldn’t ask an auto mechanic or a pub keeper or a postman or a surgeon to evaluate your writing, would you? Why ask someone who sells stories like sausages or tyres or candy or even cigarettes?

2. Even when they are qualified to judge writing, some agents, editors, and publishers may lack experience, or have ulterior motives.

For example, slush pile readers and junior editors in the United States are most typically young university graduates from the fields of literature or psychology or history or creative writing or business; female; and from higher social and economic classes (even though America has no classes); and from what can objectively be called minority ethnic or religious groups. In other words, the person who receives your initial, unsolicited submission is likely to be a woman about 22 years of age, from a specific ethnic group, who recently graduated from Radcliffe University where she studied modern French literature, and she grew up in posh New Rochelle as the daughter of a prosperous cardiac surgeon. We are not disparaging her religion, ethnicity, background, age, competence at judging writing, or ability to be fair and impartial. She may be a wonderful, brilliant woman. But the likelihood of her being a seasoned or wise judge is slight. How will she relate to a good story about Welsh coal miners, or Jamaican peasants, or Irish Catholic priests, or even poor American service workers from Nevada? Won’t her conclusions inevitably be somewhat inexperienced or immature? It doesn’t matter if she’s an Iranian Muslim or a Scots Presbyterian or a Samoan tribeswoman, or a man, either. She is simply too young, and her background is too narrow and unripe to judge writing.

In addition, her or his superiors may have issued orders to approve only simple, immediately clear, standard, non-controversial stories most highly likely to appeal to working women in their 20s or 30s; or to college-educated professional people in their 40s at least; or to men interested in sex and nudity; or to liberals; or to Christians; or to African-Americans; or to members of the Republican party; or to people who live in Newport and Laguna Beach and Dana Point. We can’t fault or complain about special interest magazines or publishers, but these magazines and publishers often claim to be generalist, which they demonstrably are not. Let’s not kid ourselves. What chance does your excellent story about Welsh coal miners or Irish Catholic priests have? Would they approve of and publish even D.H. Lawrence or James Joyce?

3. Rejection is never personal, and is always business-oriented. No sane and legitimate agent, editor, or publisher will ever reject (or accept) your writing because he or she hates (or loves) you, or considers you a bad (or good) person.

Some agents, editors, and publishers do feel emboldened to say your writing is “good” or “poor” or “needs work” or “lacks interest” or “is boring” or “is disorganized” or even “is amateurish”. Consider the source of these pronouncements with great care, and whether the commentator has any knowledge of you. Some writers consider these comments as “helpful” and sincere, while others do not.

4. All comments refer to salability and salability only, even from university presses. And salability is determined by what? It’s not necessarily good writing, is it?

5. Every writer who ever lived has been rejected repeatedly, and many times. You are not unique or unusual.

6. You must decide what your writing goals are. Primarily publication? Then write as much as possible like popular, best-selling books. Primarily excellent writing? Then develop your own merits, or at least write like acknowledged great writers, of whom there are many. If you want to write well and sell a lot of books, you have a much tougher row to hoe. How many great, best-selling writers are there? Never many.

7. Publishing is business, not art. This statement may be repetitious in the context of this essay, but it needs to be expressed as starkly as possible. Some publishers may have an interest in art, or even a striving to publish it, but their raison d’etre remains sales and advertising.

8. Be not discouraged. Options are available to you. If you truly love writing, the work itself is your reward, and may be your only reward.

If you believe these views are mistaken, or biased, or cynical, or jaded, or mean-spirited, please submit several hundred stories and a full handful of novels. Pay attention to how they’re received and commented upon, and keep records. If you meet or communicate with agents, editors, and publishers, distinguish what they say from what they do. Write whatever you want, and enjoy the process, but don’t necessarily expect riches and critical acclaim both. You’ll be exceedingly fortunate to earn either.

Don’t let anything stop you, if you enjoy writing.

– Name Withheld By request

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