The positive power of rejection

The longer you live, the more rejection you are faced with. It’s as natural a part of life as breathing. As a writer, you put yourself in a position to face more rejection than the average person (actors probably have a leg up on writers, though, in the rejection department). How you handle that part of the process is key to your success. If you give up too quickly, you’ll never get where you want to go. If you take it personally, you’ll wind up angry and resentful. But if you use it to make your writing better, and take the feedback that rejections sometimes offer and revise your work to make it the best it can be, then you’re really getting somewhere that could wind up being great. Perhaps not necessarily what you originally envisioned, but even better than that.

I enjoyed reading this recent article from writersdigest.com about Aminta Arrington’s winding road to publication. She describes the various agents with whom she corresponded and how their feedback shaped and changed the book she wound up writing and selling to a publisher. While not all agents or editors can offer the type of constructive feedback it sounds like she received, there are certainly other places to go to get feedback on your book, whether it’s from teachers, beta readers, writers’ groups, or your most insightful friends and family. Taking the idea of rejection and spinning it into a chance for growth and introspection is a worthwhile concept.

And it got me to wondering about our own blog readers and their experiences with the positive power of rejection. I’d love to hear your stories of how a rejection shaped your work in a positive (or negative – sometimes enough rejection can get you thinking about a new project instead of staying stuck on an old one that isn’t working) way. And it doesn’t have to be agent or publisher rejection. Maybe it’s a friend who told you they didn’t like something you’d written, or a teacher who gave you a grade lower than you thought you deserved until you heard his or her explanation and realized maybe it really wasn’t your best work. Please share your  positive rejection stories and then we can all work on trying to remember to see the glass half full approach to rejection from now on.

4 Responses to The positive power of rejection

  1. Anonymous says:

    Many years back in my 20’s I ran for political office. My Father believing he was offering sage advice said, ‘Well, when you lose, it will still be a great learning experience.’ That only made me work harder and I got elected. Part of my realization not to be dejected when he said this was understanding that he really didn’t know the circumstances of what was happening in the political field, how my campaign was working. His advice was based in ignorance to the reality, and that I see a lot when submitting my work to a literary agent or publisher.

    Everyone is honorable and intelligent, but I am able to rise above the rejection letters because it is apparent, for the most part, they are ignorant of who I am and the literary product I have created. I could believe the Query Letter did not click with them, but I doubt that is a primary factor. Sifting through quantity makes anyone gaining significant notice mostly a crap shoot.

    Percentage wise most rejections are form letters and the person has never read my entire Query. After a mountain of Queries sent out, without an agent I found a local publisher and my first mystery, Vegas Die, went on to win a regional award for best fiction and is now known as a local classic and the bookstores seek me out because my book signing is a postive sale event for them (ego being stroked here which helps when looking back on rejections).

    The other positive realization about rejection in the writing field is that one should not wait around for the agent/publisher to come knocking on the door. On my latest 170,000 word action-thriller-romance tome, bin Laden’s Revenge, I am releasing it as a E-book, for the strategy to help the book develop an audience so an agent in a future Query might see visible results, realizing I am a writer who can also market the product, what many writers fail to do, once the pen is set down.

    Rejection for a writer is part of the process, a hard shell must be created, but most rejection can be ignored. And if the agent sees something in your work and offers constructive comment, and I have had a few, and when they respond as such, I do listen, because they have broken through the sludge (slush) pile and have indeed given consideration to one’s writing, and those people should be valued, and friendships made if possible.


  2. Sherry Rind says:

    I just wanted to write about keeping backyard chickens. An agent who rejected my proposal suggested that the human story drive the narrative, with chickens reflecting the human events. The result was a memoir of building an urban farm in which I need to grow out of being the wimpy chick when my husband falls prey to self-induced predators, and the chickens are the desperate housewives who run half the show.

  3. EDWARD says:

    I have always enjoyed writing Shakespearean sonnets to women. It has not always been a substitute for candy, or flowers, or liquor or any other of the popular seduction tools; often it has not been motivated by seduction at all. It’s motivated from my urge to express my creativity (it’s all about me). As I struggled through graduate school, I met a young woman who was the English department’s secretary, the person who did all the grunt work while the professors got all the glory. With some fine tuning, I made her name into 14 letters, the required length of a traditional Shakespearean sonnet. The sonnet I gave her was an acrostic with her name embedded in the left hand margin.
    The department head found out about the sonnet and was seriously agitated that there were such goings on using The University’s dime. (e-mail is sloppy when it comes to privacy). When it came time for me to graduate, the department head and her cronies were willing – if not eager – to stand in my way. This was beyond rejection; this was quite hostile. The grunt, who was publicly mute on the issue, was privately in my corner pulling strings, prodding higher-ups, putting out ‘fires’, gathering necessary signatures, extending deadlines I didn’t even know could be extended, and eventually even editing my master’s thesis. (my master’s thesis, ironically, was about Shakespeare).
    Eventually, I graduated. Not with distinguished honors or anything, but I did get my diploma. I would like to thank the young woman who helped me so very much, but I have been warned against the dreaded horrors of writing sonnets.

  4. D. C. DaCosta says:

    Some thoughts, in no particular order:

    1. If at first you don’t succeed, you’re probably not doing it right.
    Feedback is essential to viewing ourselves (or our work) as others see. I’ve not minded rejection or criticism, because it has helped me to look at my work in a new way.

    2. Consider the source.
    This piggybacks on the first comment above, by the person who ran for office. You have to listen to your critics — but if they don’t like something, it does not necessarily follow that you MUST change it. I had a reader who objected to the fact that my protagonist (a 47-year old man) reads drugstore romance books. “Men don’t do that,” she said. “Well, this one does,” I decided. Heck, he’s MY protagonist, I can make him the way I want him — provided that I don’t let him do anything out of character!

    3. The article above says, “not all agents or editors can offer the type of constructive feedback”.
    If they cannot, I don’t want to do business with them. That’s their job: to tell me what doesn’t work so that my book will be saleable and profitable for all of us.
    I don’t expect a line-by-line critique. The brief responses given to the lady in the example link were short — but to the point and, ultimately, useful. That’s what I want.

    4. It’s MY book.
    Yes, editors, agents, critical friends can be invaluable. But if I know what I want my work to say, I do NOT want it to say something else.
    Example: A friend suggested that, since my protagonist was a very old-fashioned person, I should place the story in the 1940s. Well, the point of writing the book was to describe a CONTEMPORARY situation and conflict. Yes, I might have changed it, but then it wouldn’t be what I intended it to be.

    5. There’s a difference between “no good” and “not good for us right now”.
    ‘Nuff said.

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