On Rejection: They Don’t Know What They Want

“Actors search for rejection.  If they don’t get it, they reject themselves.” – Charlie Chaplin

The writer’s psyche, like that of all artists, is fragile.  When you live in a world of emotions, your own feelings have the volume turned up.  Sometimes, that can cause an emotional crash, of sorts.

Couple that with rejection, which comes frequently in writing, and you have a perfect storm for serious confidence issues.

I know many writers who live in a state of fear that they will some day be shown to be a farce.  Someone will realize they do not have any talent and should never be allowed to write again.  Some of these are published writers, who have already had some success.

I’ll end the anticipation now, for those writers who have been thinking about submitting, and have yet to do so.  You are going to get rejected.  Flat out, unless your name is Stephen King, your work is going to get rejected, and it is going to get rejected often.

James Joyce took Dubliners to 13 different publishers.  The version published was developed from the only copy he managed to save from the burning of the 12th publisher, who had threatened to sue Joyce for the costs he had already accrued.

Harry Potter was rejected by every publishing-related person that read it over the age of eight.  If a CEO’s eight year-old hadn’t endorsed it, it would have been rejected by it’s publisher, as well.

Other books that were rejected early and often:  Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, The Notebook, The Color Purple (which won a Pulitzer Prize), Gone with the Wind, Clan of the Cave Bear, Fight Club, Frankenstein, Lolita, Flowers for Algernon, A Wrinkle in Time…  (note: see a great list at onehundredrejections.com)

Let’s just end the list there.  Chances are, if you can imagine a book, it was rejected.  Some of them were rejected many, many times.  The Great Gatsby’s rejection was coupled by a note that “you would have a decent book if you got rid of that Gatsby character.”

Everyone has been rejected.  Everyone gets rejected.  But we all have to push through it.  Why?  Publishers don’t know what people want to read.  If there is one thing you should take from the list of authors who have been rejected, it is that no one really knows.  A rejection for Dune apparently started with “I may be making the mistake of a decade but…”

What will, no doubt, make the rejection harder is that you will see the successes of friends around you.  People you write with will get acceptances, get advances, get book deals, and still you will receive rejections, a constant flow.

Professional jealousy plays a role in writing, in keeping you working.  If they can do it, you can do it.  We are all writing with the same dictionary full of words, including Kipling, who one publisher said “doesn’t know how to use the English language.”

Keep writing.  Always keep writing.  If you want published, get your work out there and keep it out there.  If it is rejected, send it right back out.

I have a whiteboard in order to keep track of submissions.  I have the date and name of every publication listed along with the story submitted to them.  If I get a rejection, I erase the date and publisher and find a new market to replace it.  If I get a more personal rejection, I tinker with their suggestions and then get it submitted again.  If your work isn’t out there, it isn’t working for you.

Rejection hurts, I won’t lie.  You spend days, weeks, months, or even years pouring yourself into writing that an editor then rejects in a matter of moments, sending you the same form letter he sends everyone else.

But, as much as rejection hurts, acceptance is an amazing feeling, and once you have felt it, you want nothing more than to feel it again.  Trust me, it is worth it.  Even the smallest acceptance makes all the work worthwhile.

The important thing is that you don’t let rejection cause you to reject yourself.  Love writing, believe in your work, and don’t worry about what others are going to say about it.  Don’t let fear of rejection keep you from submitting.



1 thought on “On Rejection: They Don’t Know What They Want”

Leave a Comment