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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Treating the Pain of Rejection

By Ash Krafton | @AshKrafton

You can't get a handful of rejections and stop submitting—that's not how publishing works. This is a game with more than a handful of players. Every great book has a best-fit publisher for it but you can't skim the pool and expect to net it with just a handful of attempts.

We have to accept the facts: most of us are going to have to make several submissions and face several rejections before we get the acceptance that our book deserves. Those rejections are going to hurt. 

The treatment isn't easy, either. Over-the-counter analgesics provide little relief and self-medicating with alcohol only causes hangovers and the need for intense revisions later on. What's a poor writer to do?

The Treatment

The only way writers can avoid rejection is to avoid submitting work. Considering that abstinence is a pretty harsh therapy, I suggest you do the exact opposite: submit everything, submit often, submit everywhere. Kind of a hair-of-the-dog approach.

It's my homeopathic remedy to the rejection blues…keep submitting and eventually the sting of rejection goes away. 

The principle of similars (or "like cures like") is a central homeopathic principle. The principle states that a disease can be cured by a substance that produces similar symptoms in healthy people.

Never mind that many studies have suggested that homeopathy is no more effective than placebo. But think about it: placebos that work prove that mind over matter works. Positive thinking works.

That's serious medicine for all writers.

Frequent exposure to rejection helps us build a tolerance. We develop thicker skins. Now, I am not suggesting we put out faulty work, poor writing, or sub-prime manuscripts for the sole purpose of amassing rejections. Our goal is acceptance, remember? Once you run out of agents on your list…then what?

Luckily, we can submit our work to places other than agents or editors.

Contests: A Litmus Test Before Submitting to Agents

When I finished my first novel, I wanted a litmus test before I started flinging it at agents. I wanted to toe the waters of publishing before of plunging in. I wanted to feel my way cautiously through the dark instead of bumbling through it. 

Fortunately, I came across an article that described an author's journey to publication that suggested entering contests. I vowed to enter every contest I could for an entire year--but the practice proved so useful I never stopped.

Upsides to entering: Contests have judges who rate your work, as well as cool things like winners and prizes and glory. Remember—not everyone wins and most entrants end up with a contest-sized rejection.

However, the rejection is often of the personal variety. Look for contests that will return a score sheet (many post the score sheet on-line beforehand so you can see what you're going to get.) My favorite contests are those that encourage judges to leave comments. (I once got a twenty-five page entry back, line-edited. Thank you, free copy editor, because you saved me five dollars a page. *smiley*)

Contests also provided great feedback. When I first started entering contests, I had zero access to a writer’s critique group and an equally round number of beta-readers. The judges became my circle of well-meaning peers. Thanks to the feedback, I made some excellent revisions. (I also learned to ignore a lot of personal opinion, just like in a real group. That's part of building your immunity to rejection syndrome.)

Downsides? Sorry, but there are a few. Entry fees, first and foremost. For instance, some romance manuscript contests can cost anywhere from ten to fifty bucks a pop. Romance writers who belong to Romance Writers of America can often enter RWA contests for a discount; many writer group-sponsored contests offer similar discounts to their members. Despite the discounts, though, the fees add up.

Not winning is a downside, too, but here is where the homeopathy comes in. These contest-sized rejections can be crushing, especially if the judges shred your entry. Your resolve to be a writer has to be stronger than those negative forces. Most contests require their judges to provide ENCOURAGING feedback but there are judges who are simply not going to jive with your pages. You may unwittingly get a lot of practice not taking rejection personally.

My advice is to do it one score sheet at a time. If a loss was so massively rejectional, put it down and come back to it when you're ready. Even the worst scores might come back with helpful suggestions and you may find something helpful once you've prepared yourself. 

Keep in mind that these kinds of "rejections" cannot hurt you. They don't ruin your chances of getting your best work in front of a coveted agent or editor. In fact, they do the opposite: contest feedback may point out a flaw you missed, a spot of slow pacing, an opening that doesn't work the way you thought. 

Most contests deal with opening pages or a first chapter—the same partial that an agent or editor would see. If a contest helps you improve those pages, it also improves your chances of being read further, thereby reducing the probability of a rejection. 

So, in a nutshell: like cures like. See? It's all quite scientific.

I can handle rejection a lot better now than I did back when I first started to submit my work. I can handle judge's comments better, too, because after entering dozens of contests, I've had enough feedback to know what works, what doesn't, and what is subjective commenting vs. objective feedback.

My first book has since been accepted for publication but there will be other books and other rejections to come. Also, my book will eventually be reviewed…and I know it's a chance for a whole new round of subjective comments. My experiences have made me stronger and more capable of handling adversity. I won't say I'm immune to the pain of rejection but, these days, it'll take a lot more than a "no" to cause a setback for me.

After all, if a thing doesn't kill you, it can only make you stronger, right?

And that's pretty much homeopathy.


Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who resides in the heart of the Pennsylvania coal region, where she keeps the book jacket for "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" in a frame over her desk. Visit the Spec Fic Website at www.ashkrafton.com for updates on the release of her debut novel, Bleeding Hearts, forthcoming in early 2012 through Pink Narcissus Press.


Rosalyn said...

Great advice--thanks!

Anonymous said...

Rejection is thrilling in that it compels the writer to try again. After all, good writing comes from attempting again and again to perfect words and sentences, massaging them into stories. The submission process shouldn't be any different.

I submitted to more than 50 young adult agents/agencies, had six requests, five rejections and one offer of representation. While having the offer was pretty amazing, I knew I would miss the pursuit of getting one.

- Julie

Stina said...

I entered one contest. It was early in my drafts, and I had a friend who had judged a few contests crit my entry first. Not a smart idea. She found only a few things to tweak. I sent the entry in with the sole goal of getting feedback on my opening, to see if I was headed in the right direction. But by the tine I received the feedback, the beginning had been rewritten to a large extent due to feedback by a much stronger critter. At that point, I was too busy to read the contest feedback (I was editing the rest of the book) and then I forgot all about it.

I still haven't read it. Why? Because my first chapter is no longer my first chapter. It's my second one. And any comments that was made no longer count because of all the heavy editing I've done. Yep, I wish I had waited and save myself the entry fee.

Once thing to watch out for is just how subjective the contests are. I volunteered to judge in one. I specifically requested YA novels, and was sent contemporary romances, which I don't read. I told the organizers that I couldn't judge the entries fairly. Seriously, how am I supposed to know if the idea if original if I don't read the genre? I know many situations in which it was obvious the judged a genre they didn't like or read. The comments were way off base.

Contests are great, but they are not for everyone. And remember to apply what you learned from those judged pages to the rest of your book.

Anonymous said...

The bitter sting of rejection is really just nature's way of letting you know your dream is still alive :)

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

Great advice! I had a file drawer full of rejections before I finally sold my first book. And the truth is, a writer is only as good as their last book, so rejections can still happen even after publishing. It's a tough business we're in.

Marsha Sigman said...

So what you're saying is we should just be submission ho's? lol

Sorry couldn't resist. Great advice!

Anonymous said...

I don't know about the 'ho thing (definitely lol) but writing isn't the time to be modest.

Writers need to flaunt what they got if they wanna keep it hot. :)