Rejection, like failure, is often misinterpreted when it comes to being a writer. Not a word that inspires confidence, ‘rejection’ is laden with negative connotations that yell unpleasant things like INCAPABLE at us in bold capitals. Of course, we all know there are many books out there that have seen the light of day before they were ready to open their eyes. But for the writers who have followed the guidelines and ticked all the boxes and can’t see any other way in which their work could be improved, ‘rejection’ may not necessarily be the right word to beat yourself up with.
As a short-story writer, I know that disappointing feeling when a story you’ve worked tirelessly on – and thought was, quite frankly, brilliant – gets turned down. I’m also familiar with that feeling as an editor. When I first receive an enquiry from a potential new client who I’m confident I could work well with, I put in a lot of time to showcase how I can help improve that client’s work – providing a sample edit/proofread, compiling quotations and discussing terms. If the client doesn’t wish to proceed, I will very often receive no response at all, and this can be disappointing and frustrating after so much effort. Around this time, the word ‘rejection’ begins to lurk ominously.
But, as a short-story writer, I also know that uplifting feeling when the story you’ve attempted to place on six different occasions finally gets accepted on the seventh. Likewise, as an editor, I may field ten enquiries before the next one proves successful and the client agrees to proceed. Ah, that joyous feeling! It’s well worth the wait.
Prior to these celebrations, though, it’s very easy to get downhearted and despondent – and that can have a knock-on effect on our work. But it’s crucial that writers (and editors) remember that 'rejection' doesn’t necessarily mean rejection in the personal sense. There are a list of reasons why our work might not be accepted, many of which bear no reflection of the quality of our work or our capabilities. Here are just a few:
Some of these matters can be acted upon and some can’t. For example, you can make sure that you are directing your submissions to the agents/publishers who clearly work within your genre; but you can’t do anything about those whose lists for the coming year(s) include one or more of your style of story and who are not budgeting for any more. Likewise, from an editor’s point of view, I can gain more training and experience in a specialist genre (such as historical fiction) which will make me more appealing to those writers, but I can’t do anything about my location in relation to every client. This means I should concentrate my efforts on the things that are within my control, and accept those that aren’t, without taking it personally.
It’s particularly crucial that, as an editor, I am a good match for the client and their manuscript in every way – that I understand the genre, I can relate to the client and I am clear about their goals. If this is not the case, then I am the wrong person for the job and it could end badly. As I’m running a business, ‘badly’ is not how I want the client to perceive me. So rather than take a risk on a project I have doubts about, I would rather express these doubts to the client and refer them to another editor who may ‘fit’ better. Likewise, when trying to place your novel, you need to bear in mind you are entering into a business proposal – agents need to know they can sell your book to publishers, and publishers need to know they can sell it (in great quantities) to readers. For your part, you can ensure the business proposal is accurate and submitted to realistic potential buyers – a ‘hit and miss’ approach will only generate ‘rejection’ and subsequent disillusionment.
There are a great many articles and books about how best to submit your novel to literary agents and traditional publishers, and these will help you to work on those things that you can control. I’m currently reading one such book and it is already my personal favourite. I recommend it to one and all, for its no-messing advice and the author’s wealth of experience:
So perhaps between us writers and editors then, we can agree not to perceive rejection as a bad reflection on us or our work, but merely a process of finding the best possible place for that work.