Writing Wednesday: How To Handle Rejection

Yes, this is late. I meant to do this earlier, but hey, the real job got in the way.

So after I posted the Dos and Don’ts of Contests, I decided I’d write a post on rejection.

Now, any writer will tell you, in order to get published, you will deal with rejection. Unless you’re the one person who queries and then gets accepted on your first try. If that’s you, well, bully for you. Now off with you. You are way too awesome for this blog.

For the rest of us, though, we will deal with rejection at some point or another.

Don’t think it won’t be you. Because I’m here to tell you, it will happen to you.

You’ll polish up your manuscript, and you’ll think it’s perfect. First, let me assure you, it’s not. No, really. That’s why we have editors. Sure, you may have been working on your magnum opus for 10 years, but once it hits the editor’s desk (if you’re good enough, lucky enough and persistent enough to get that far), it will be torn apart.

But that’s another post for another day.

So you’ll send your beautiful, perfect manuscript off. And then you’ll obsessively check your email for anywhere from, oh, five minutes, to several months. You’ll suffer the disappointment every time you open your e-mail (which you checked five minutes ago), and discover that your blessed query has not been answered.

And then, it will happen. You’ll see an editor’s or an agent’s name in your email.

Your heart will race, and your blood pressure will skyrocket. No, trust me, it will.

Here’s my advice. Don’t read the whole email. Read the accept/reject line, then close the email.

Because here’s what will happen: you’ll read the rejection and you’ll immediately get up on your high horse. You’ll be ready to rumble, to have a smack down, to have a heart to heart. DON’T.

You’re upset. If ever we have learned something from our phones, it’s that the immediate message, sent in the heat of anger a) can’t be taken back and b) is generally not constructive. There are things no rational human being should ever do, one of which is to respond to an email when pissed off.

So the editor didn’t understand the genius of your work. Get over yourself. I have Shakespeare plays that I can’t stand. Now, go ahead and send me hate mail for my opinion, but I hate Hamlet. Not because I don’t get it, but because I hate it. I know, I know, everyone loves Hamlet. But if I want to read about some wishy washy person who can’t make a goddamn decision and has an overbearing mother, I’ll read my journals from 8th grade. It’s not that I don’t get Hamlet. I do. I’ve read the damn thing often enough. I just don’t like it.

Does that mean Hamlet isn’t good? Nope. Lots of people love Hamlet. Me, I prefer MacBeth, because Lady MacBeth has balls. Chick might be a power-hungry bitch of questionable sanity, but I’d prefer that to an indecisive twat with Mommy/Daddy/Uncle issues who is taking a ride on the crazy train.

Think of your rejected manuscript as Hamlet. Maybe it’s genius, but some poor sap just doesn’t get it.

That being said, for the love of all you consider holy, DON’T TELL THEM SO.

They don’t need your hate mail. They don’t need to hear you whining about how your manuscript is brilliant, and they’ll regret their rejection. So, do yourself a favor. Close your email, and walk away.

Console yourself in any way you feel you must. If you need wine and chocolate, then awesome. Have some wine and chocolate. But let me make myself perfectly clear: drunk emailing and angry emailing are essentially the same. Don’t get smashed and then email the editor. You will say things you regret. And again, these are people who are trying to make a living, too. They aren’t out to destroy your dream. No, seriously. Agents and editors are not soulless assholes out to steal your firstborn. So, give them some respect (even in those cases where they don’t show you any). If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. Seriously. Wordsmith though you may be, sometimes the most eloquent thing you can say is nothing at all.

So, after you’ve let yourself simmer down, re-open that email. Yes, it might give you a headache, but read the email. Start to finish. If the editor gives you some constructive criticism, bear that in mind. I’ve gotten rejections that ranged from “I have a migraine, so I lost interest,” (Yes, really), to a two paged, detailed description of what worked for said editor and what didn’t.

Let me tell you something, the detailed critique was by far the harder rejection to take.

What that editor did for me was a gift, and I knew it. It kind of felt like a gift where you’re punched in the teeth upon reception, but still. It was a gift. I saved that rejection, because it was the nicest–and most professional–rejection I’ve ever gotten. It was also the only rejection that ever made me cry.

Which brings me to my next point: If you get a gift like I did, where an editor offers you a detailed critique, where she points out areas where you can improve, then do yourself a favor:  listen. Make those changes.

I took those criticisms to heart. I changed my manuscript. Rewrote it all. And the next place i queried offered me a contract.

Would my current publisher have offered me a contract if I hadn’t made those changes? Possibly. But what I know for a fact is that I made those changes and was subsequently offered a contract. You can decide how you want to take that.

So, in short, here’s how to handle rejection:

1. Read only the line where you get rejected, and then close the email. Walk away from your computer.

2. Go ahead, cry to mom, or get drunk, or text your friend, complaining about what a dumbass said agent or editor is.

3. Do not email the agent or editor and call him/her a dumbass. If you do, then you are the dumbass.

4. When you’ve calmed down, re-read the rejection. If there’s anything pertinent you can take from it, do that.

5. If they’ve offered advice, email them with a short and polite thank you. And then leave it at that.

6. Last but not least, try again. Move on to the next agent or editor on your list. Maybe you got the editor who likes MacBeth when you wrote Hamlet. You’ll never know unless you try.


7 thoughts on “Writing Wednesday: How To Handle Rejection”

  1. Excellent advice, Meggan! And I love that you summarize it at the end. Thank you so much for another brilliant post.

  2. I always expect to hear the worst (I know, very Eeyore of me!), but it still stings a bit anyway! Thanks for the sound advice Meggan. And I agree, always say thank you and be professional. Publishing is a small world and you don’t want to one of “those” people.

    1. Thanks, Casey!

      I’m with you–I always expect the worst. My husband says it makes me a pessimist. I argue just as strenuously that I’m really a realist–that way, I’m pleasantly surprised when good news comes in!

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