February 9, 2009

Rejections…yes, they can be good for you

What do you hate most about writing? Cranky editors, staring at a blank computer screen when the muse doesn’t want to cooperate? No, I’m guessing it’s those dreaded rejections.

If there was ever a downside to the writing life, it’s opening up your mailbox and finding a returned manuscript with a letter saying, sorry, not this time. As an author and freelance writer, rejections are an inevitable part of my life. So after all these years of writing, have they got any easier to tolerate? Nope, I still hate them, they still drive me crazy, but I have found some good things about rejections.

Rejections Mean You're a Working Writer
Getting one rejection after another doesn’t make you feel good, but it does mean you’re actually writing and having the courage to send your work to editors. Think of all the writers who just talk about getting published and never do. Not because of lack of talent, but because they’re scared to be rejected. You’ve taken the first step and for that you should be proud.

Rejections Can be a Gauge for your Writing Skills
My writing career started with short stories. And it seemed every single one came back with the standard rejection letter. You know the ones that start with Dear Writer….Then as my writing career progressed the standard ones turned into more personal rejections with handwritten notes on the bottom of the paper. And I gradually worked my way up to actually receiving typed letters outlining what worked and what didn’t for that particular editor. Had the publishing world got kinder, editors less busy? No, my writing got stronger and those rejection letters were a gauge of the improvement I’d made over the years.

Rejection Letters Can Be a Free Critique
Have you see those ads in writing magazines for book doctors who can show you what you’re doing wrong? And have you seen how much they charge per word or page? Sometimes your rejection letter can be a free critique. Maybe the editor feels you need to work on making the characters stronger, the pacing tighter. Take their advice, work on those weak areas and learn from your mistakes.

Repeated Rejections Can Be a Way to Get to Know an Editor
If you keep submitting to the same editor…and I don’t mean the same manuscript they’ve just rejected, he or she will get to know you. Hopefully, they’ll see your writing skills improve. And they’ll know you’re serious about making a career for yourself.

Rejections Can Make You More Determined
Maybe it’s just me, but when a rejection lands in my mail and or e-mail box, it makes me just that more determined to find a home for it. I’ll let it sit for a week or so and then take second look. Sometimes I’m surprised at just how quickly I can find what’s wrong with it.

Rejections Can Make You Write More
I know some people who send in their first story and won’t work on their next piece until the first one sells. Sometimes it takes 4-6 months to hear back from an editor and you’re writing skills are going to get rusty. Call this a silly superstition of mine, but I try and get the first draft of my next manuscript finished by the time and hear back from an editor. Sometimes being so involved with a new plot, creating new characters takes away some of the sting rejections can bring.

Susan Palmquist is a freelance writer and author of three novels. A Sterling Affair published by The Wild Rose Press. And Death Likes Me and The One and Only both published by Hearts on Fire Books. You can read excerpts and see book covers by visiting her Web site at www.susanpalmquist.com


Skhye said...

Great post! And we can always save them for fire starter. :)

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hi, Susan. Thanks so much for bloggning with me today. I really like your lists of why rejecttions aren't so bad. Thanks for sharing it with us.

I thought the one explaining how the rejections got more personal as your writing improved was very insightful and helpful.

With the economy being what it is, it's going to be espeically tough for first time or other newish writers. Houses are more apt to go with their tried and true writers instead of chancing money on a newbie. So, we're more apt to get rejection letters...not because we suck, but because of the economy. Thanks for helping take the sting out of them

Anna Kathryn

Anita Davison said...

Very timely post, I received an agent rejection which I blogged about today on http://thedisorganisedauthor.blogspot.com and the comments I received have helped me see that in fact it wasn't a bad rejecton. The agent said I could write and she liked my 'sample' - but I'm simply not quirky or edgy enough for her. Tricky for a historical fiction writer - but she did say if I write a novel that is 'up her street' she would like to see it - not a total bust then?

Susan said...

Thanks for all your comments. Skhye, I like the idea about using them for fire starter.
Once I even got a rejection that wasn't for my work. It was my self addressed envelope but contained a partial and rejection letter for another writer. You know things are bad when you start getting other people's rejections.

Anna, you're right about the economy impacting the writing world.

Anita, keep sending that historical out. I can't remember how many times I sent all three of my published books out, yes, I did some major rewrites to them along the way, but I finally found editors who thought they were just right. My motto, never keep up hope on any manuscript.

Celia Yeary said...

I liked the comment--okay, I chuckled a little--about repeated rejections will help you get to know the editor better. Okay. Rejections letters can serve a purpose, I admit, and as a postive-type (usually)I haven't allowed them to bother me so much. What is more troublesome to me is not an outright rejection, but a note that gives an outline, as such, for me to re-write my ms. It's happened to all of us, and I can honestly say, it is my very weakest point. I can't do it. Well, I say I can't, but I have. I must think on it a while. I don't mind changing things during edits--I like to clean up a ms--but to change a character or a big part of the plot--Ohhh, it makes my head hurt. Your points are well-taken. Thanks for good advice. Celia

Jannine said...

Hi Susan:
Ah, rejections. So dear to my heart.......NOT!!! But they drfinately were helpful in making me a better writer. Because it wasn't possible for me to join a critique group, I used rejections (and contest feedback) to improve my skills. Getting rejections should be looked at as a learning experience, a way of paying your dues. It makes getting published that much sweeter.

Sally_Odgers said...

One of my most interesting rejections came 17 minutes after I submitted the story (by e-mail). That same afternoon I had another e-mail asking if the story was still available... Same publisher, same editor, and the story is now a hard cover picture book.

I never did get to the bottom of that change of mind. Sometimes, it pays not to ask!

Amy Nichols said...

Great Post and boy I needed it. I've been terrified of rejections even though I can logically think through the reasons for them.

My mother is an artist and has the following saying "I've yet to reach my limit for rejection."

Very wise woman, my mother. :)