Yesterday I woke up, rolled over, picked up my phone and, after a slow breath, pressed the home button. A small, drop down display appeared: my emails that had come in during the night and earlier that morning.
“Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity…”
“Thank you so much for giving me a chance…”
“Thank you for writing me about…”
A lead weight dropped in my stomach after reading each preview. I put the phone down, let out another deep breath, and did what any rational, discerning adult would do when faced with obvious messages of complete and utter failure to be successful after months of hard work and dedication; I ignored them and started my day.
Okay, not the healthiest response, but I’m not a saint. Just a human with natural, emotionally irresponsible responses to query letter rejections.
I went into my garage and exercised, remembering one of the quoted lines above every 15 minutes. I fed the dog and cat, their eyes looking up at me as if to say, “Those messages aren’t going to read themselves, human.” I cooked breakfast while the black, reflective surface of my phone beckoned me to confront these messages of defeat.
Then I plopped down in my writing desk, opened my email aaaaaaand…
Read every email but those three query replies. Those done and, with nothing left to draw my attention, I opened the first of the emails I’d been avoiding, and confirmed what I already knew. It was indeed a query rejection.
I let the disappointment hit, flowing over me, hot, humid, and oppressive. It pressed down on my limbs and dragged my heart to the floor. The feeling abated for a moment and I recorded the rejection in the Excel spreadsheet I created for tracking my current querying process (yea, I have a spreadsheet, because I need to track everything in my life, even rejections). The act of inputing the rejection somehow lessened the disappointment, allowing me to move to the next rejection, where I began the process all over again.
Despite the nice words from each agent about their tastes not matching with the material of my manuscript, I knew there was a good chance these rejections were due to some aspect of the writing I could control, whether it be choice of content in the current market, mistakes in the query letter, etc. 89% of all the query rejections I’ve received to date state a personal preference being the reason for passing on the work, rather than an observable, correctable problem with the material or query letter (I may or may not analyze the data from my query process document on a semi-regular basis. Again, not a saint, just a human with way too much experience with Excel). By this point it was late morning and the knot in my chest was heating up almost to boiling as I told myself that some of those form letters were probably not telling the truth. How DARE they not consider MY need for closure! How dare they!
If I just got honest responses back, I say to myself, I could probably write better books that will get me through these traditional publishing gatekeepers.
As always, I turned on myself. I went back over the personal rejections I’d received, teasing out similarities, thinking about how I can tweak the book I submitted, or the new one I’m currently writing, to better suit the needs of these agents. Before I knew it, I’d opened the completed Manuscript for review.
But then, before I could go down that rabbit hole, I leant back in my chair and took another breath.
I am doing the best I can. I’m continuing to educate myself, I’m reading other published novels in my genre and comparing them to my own work objectively, working with my writing group to address issues in my writing, and actively seeking guidance from my mentors.
I am doing the best I can.
I am doing the best I can.
I then sent a silent apology to the agents that have rejected me that day.
I probably do have problems in my work that they identified. But it isn’t their job to help me improve. They’re the gate keepers to the traditional publishing world with lives and concerns and struggles of their own. They probably know what I’m going through waaay better than I realize. They’ve probably had to deal with rejection themselves and know the pain that comes with it.
Additionally, their form letters serve an important purpose: To get through the hundred or so queries they get a day and give each some attention while having enough time to review others.
The “not quite a fit” messages are probably there as a form of protection as well. They don’t know who I am and how I’ll respond to actual, actionable critiques on my work. Putting the blame of rejection on themselves is the best way to avoid direct anger and confrontation.
This process, no matter how many times I read rejections, inevitably get to this point. I recognize I’m not really angry at these gatekeepers. I feel anger and inadequacy in myself for not being good enough, which is a valid feeling, but ultimately arbitrary because I don’t know why most of these people reject me and I’ll never know. The best thing I can do in the long term is push myself to be a better writer. And the best thing I can do in the short term is continue on with my day.
This process, I believe, is an important one. I’m not discounting these rejections. I’m not ignoring them. I am using them, if anything, as tools to better myself and my ability to deal with the pain of loss. Like building a muscle, the practice of dealing with rejection is one that requires repeatable exposure.
The hard truth is that the pain never really gets better, but processing it does. Reaching acceptance allows me to clear my head to work, be more accessible to my family, and move on, unburdened.
As Maxwell Alexander Drake puts it, “Once you’re in the game, any rejection is going to do more than hurt your feelings, The stakes get bigger. The rejections become career threatening.”
And there will be rejections. They will come from publishers, other writers, readers, fans, critics, media, loved ones and from every conceivable corner of the publishing world. They will lead to shut outs, loss of income, and loss of faith in one’s creative talent.
Now is the time to learn how to process that pain of loss. This first round with agents is only the tip of the iceberg. It either gets worse or maintains at the level of strain. I used to see rejections and completely ignore them. Now I read them, let in my feelings of lost opportunity and, if I can, draw lessons from them that will enable me to become a better writer. I can tell myself objectively that I am doing the best I can.
It’s a rough road, but it’s one we authors have chosen and you owe it to yourself, as I do, to grasp all aspects of that life and get yourself ready for what is to come. To deny yourself that opportunity is to deny an aspect of what it means to be an author, creator, and a strong, healthy individual.
Life is about loss and hurt and pain and disappointment. It never gets easier, and it’s always going to be there. Open up those emails, read them, and learn how to get back up when they put you down.