Sunday, September 23, 2007

Rejection Perspective

I got a rejection today, and I’m glad. It wasn’t for a client, either. It was for me, for my work. I got a rejection on a project I worked on for a very long time. I wrote it and revised it. I nurtured it and tweaked it. I really liked it, too. I spent a lot of time working on it, and today the publisher’s form rejection arrived. What was my reaction, you might wonder?

I got up and went in the other room to brush my cat, Harvey, whose prognosis has been downgraded from “too mean to die ever” to “terminal cancer.” She likes to be brushed, although she’d prefer sleeping in a bag of kibble so all she’d have to do is roll over and stick her tongue out to get a conveniently located tasty snack.

Then I returned to my computer and paid a bill. After that, we splurged a little and went out to eat, and so on and so on. I did not dwell on the rejection. I did not post it on a forum complaining about the absence of common decency because it was in the form of a form letter. I did not immediately turn to the Internet and try to find any and all information about the company in an effort to discredit them or to insinuate that the publisher was either a scammer, incompetent, or worst of all, not prestigious enough so that I could brag about the publishing credit to my friends.

I read the letter, processed it, and moved on. Rejection is and always will be part of the publishing process, so it’s no big deal. The paradigm is pretty simple really: If you have something a publisher wants, they give you money for it. If you don’t, they don’t give you money for it. Even Harvey can figure this out. I didn’t have something the publisher wanted, so they decided not to give me money for it. Okay. Next.

The reason I bring this up is that I constantly hear complaints about the rejection process—it’s too cold, it belittles writers, too many editors and agents get a thrill from it, etc. Well, let me tell you what I think about rejections, and you can take this as coming from someone who’s been through it from both sides of the desk, not just one.

When we used to write comments in rejections, we would get blasted—as recently happened—for being mean to writers, regardless of how helpful we were trying to be. So we quit writing comments except occasionally and switched to a nice safe form letter. But then we heard nothing but complaints about the coldness of a form letter and the lack of helpful comments.

What amazes me is this attitude toward form rejections in any business. Twenty years ago, when I first started looking for employment, I used to get what we called “ding” letters from companies where I had interviewed for a position but had not been selected for the job. It never mattered to me that my name was in the salutation, because the end result was I still didn’t get the job. Having a personal rejection didn’t make the news any easier to deal with. I never expected them to include interview tips or any kind words beyond the form letter, either. What were they supposed to say exactly? You're fabulous, but someone else was just way more fabulous? Think about companies like Microsoft or Bertelsman, who have applicants for positions from all over the world, probably hundreds a day, for all kinds of positions. Are they supposed to personalize each ding letter so the job candidate feels better about him/herself? How much time do you think a Human Resources Director has?

Moving on, when I tried to streamline the query process for us and writers by instituting the form system, we heard all kinds of nattering about how rude and belittling it was—why, writers are human, after all, and deserve at least enough respect to warrant a response! What response that is, however, I am not exactly sure, since rejections with comments and form rejections seem to be out as options. What are we left with?

Acceptance letters.

That’s right, and you all know I’m right. The only really palatable rejection letter is an acceptance letter. Face the truth! When a writer opens that letter, whether via e-mail or snail mail, the only words on the page that will make him feel not cheated somehow are those that offer on his manuscript. Once you accept this fundamental truth, getting a rejection letter takes on a whole new perspective and makes the writing life much less stressful. I can hear the objections now, though.

“But I can’t tell people I’m a writer if all I ever get are rejections!”

Then maybe you should consider that you aren’t a writer, which brings us to the question…

What is a writer?

To be continued…



Bernita said...

A very good post.

Josephine Damian said...

Bernita: Agree.

It's a pity writers don't realize all that time and energy wasted on firing off a snarky reply to the rejector, or searching the web or trash talking them in a blog, or boo-hooing publicly or privately could be better spent honing their craft and figuring out what they did wrong so that next time they might not get rejected.

Gigi534 said...

As a published writer, I loved this post. All I read anymore is stuff from new witers whining about being new writers and about how hard it is to be a new writer and about how unfair the world is to new writers and so on. Geesh!

I went to school and worked for years to be able to write for a living, so I really am sick of hearing about the engineer making $100,000 a year with no school loans who hates everyone in publishing because his memoir hasn't sold and it's been a whole six months. Nobody feels sorry for you!

Patrick McNamara said...

"...she’d prefer sleeping in a bag of kibble so all she’d have to do is roll over and stick her tongue out to get a conveniently located tasty snack."

Don't we all, especially after getting a rejection letter.

I think the one thing writers are looking for in rejection letters is feedback. They want to know what needs to be improved and a form rejection doesn't do anything. It's only as one gets better that they're more likely to get the personal rejections.

Edix said...

Great post. I just got a rejection yesterday. I was desperately hoping for a parade and band along with glowing words about my writing. darn. I have to settle for chocolate and revising my query AGAIN. I wonder if he didn't like my query or it just wasn't right for him. I would adore feedback. And some M&Ms. love to your cat. Edix

Patrick McNamara said...

If you're really looking for feedback I suggest It tends to be amateur but it can at least help point out some flaws.

Brenda said...

Great post...thanks!

whimper1823 said...

I would have to agree with Patrick Mcnamara, Critiquecircle is the place to go if you are looking for feedback. Been a member there for a couple of years now and have nothing but positive things to say about it.

You have to read and critique others in order to get critiqued yourself. This adds a couple of advantages. One, you get to read what others are writing and learn how to critique material with an unbiased eye, you get feed back on your writing from others who aren't as invested in the project as you and lastly, hopefully you will learn to look at your own work with the same unbiased perception and cut it to the bone.