A thousand ways to say no

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ANYONE who has ever done anything out of the ordinary, against the very will of societies and economies (like writing a book, crazy you!), invariably meets with the head-shaking, heartbreaking moment of dashed dreams which occurs in the wake of the average rejection.

In a sense, if you’ve put yourself in rejection’s path, you’ve already done more than most people. Trouble is, rejection rarely feels that way.

I have little time for those writers who try to mollify emerging creatives with cries of: ‘get used to it’ and ‘we’ve all been there’. To leave it at that is to ignore the genuine pain that rejection inflicts, and the possibility of finding ways through the hurt to a place of understanding.

So, for the rejected, here is my best advice, from one who stands with you.

J.K. Rowling had it good

The latest in a long line of success stories that gets trawled-out to give hope to the rejected is that of the author of the Harry Potter series, but don’t be fooled. Yes, Joanne Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was resoundingly rejected by multiple publishers, but she was signed with a literary agent at the time, and the rejection process came to an end after around twelve months. That is not an abject state of rejection. During her short rejection ‘purgatory’, Rowling had a sounding board, a guide, and a mentor in her agent, something most writers never encounter, so don’t feel too sorry for her.

Rejectors like to keep it interesting

These days, publishers and agents rarely engage in reasons why they reject your work. It’s likely you’ll never even receive a reply. If (and it’s a big if) you get feedback, don’t believe it immediately. “An irresponsible holiday story that will never sell,” went the rejection of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In The Willows, a book which went on to sell 25 million copies. “Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling”; “You have no business being a writer and should give up”; “We feel that we don’t know the central character well enough”, and “I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years” all featured in rejections of some of the bestsellers in publishing history. Check out some more at this great site.

Publishers have rejection shame of their own

I once worked for one of the many publishing houses who rejected Dick King-Smith’s bestselling childrens’ book The Sheep-Pig, the story which was so successfully adapted for the screen as Babe. I can assure you the company still carried a certain amount of shame about its decision a decade later. Think of the hand-wringing and guilt-tripping amongst those publishers who rejected J.K. Rowling!

Be ready for rejection

There are only two ways to endure rejection. The first and perhaps the hardest is to be a megalomanic who has absolutely no shred of self-doubt. The other is to know the true value of your work; to have spent time and energy making your manuscript the best it can be within your skill level at this time of your life. When it gets rejected, you’ll be able to send it to another publisher straight away if you know it’s the best work you can do right now. If you don’t know this for sure, you’re possibly sending your work out too early.

Keep faith with your stories

The greatest damage rejection can wreak is if the writer gives up, leaving the characters they have worked on unread, unloved, and, in a way, unborn. Not every manuscript in history gets published, but every character needs to be loved by at least their creator. Even when all seems useless, revisit your own creation, laugh and cry at your characters’ highs and lows, keep them alive through your own faith. Think about self publishing if you’ve tried every avenue, like Virginia Woolf and Beatrix Potter did. Accept your own work. If you don’t, it’s possible no-one else ever will.

True criticism will fill you with power

If you ever get truly constructive feedback from an agent or a publisher, it will resonate with you on a very deep level and you’ll know immediately how to fix your manuscript. Nothing on earth will be able to hold you back from making the changes. If the feedback doesn’t move you on this level, question everything about it.

Keep some rejections to yourself

Loved ones, who always think what we write is Booker Prize material, believing mirrors that they are, need a break from our rejections sometimes. Don’t register every ‘no’ with blood-letting. Find other writers to share the pain with.

WRITE REGARDLESSSend it out again

I try my best to have a few balls in the air at one time. It provides a sense of potential, so that when a rejection lands, there is still hope on its way from some other source. For many writers, even just a tiny bit of hope is all it takes to keep going.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

An extract from Write, Regardless!

3 thoughts on “A thousand ways to say no”

  1. Hello Michael,
    I am also a big believer in having more than one ball in the air at a time. I have actually laughed in the face of rejection (mainly because the rejection came 7 months after I had submitted my piece and I had already given up on it, but also because i had a couple of other balls in the air on which to pin my hopes).
    But what to do about publishers who state that your work must not be under consideration by any other publishing house or competition at the time of submission?? I know plenty of people who disregard this warning. What’s your take on this?

    1. That stance ONLY favours publishers, so I don’t see why any writer would obey this unreasonable restriction. Every time I have had more than one publisher/producer interested, when they get even a hint of competition, they act swiftly to make a decision. Do we offer our homes to just one buyer at a time? Do Woollies only allow one buyer to consider each item on the shelves at one time? No way. Publishers who request exclusivity are only afraid of commercial competition, and they should be.

    2. Conversely, if we send manuscripts out to multiple publishers, we need to be prepared to get more than one offer, and that means we will need to be in the rejector’s position, which comes with ramifications that are probably greater than being rejected.

      In the end, on statistical likelihood alone, I think it’s best to send manuscripts out in small batches.

      Are there stories of authors getting two acceptance letters for the one submission?

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