blog,  publication,  writing

Novelfail: Facing rejection with grace (or learning to)

I’ve had short stories rejected before, and I like to think I’m pretty good at dealing with it. At least, it’s enough to piss me off a while, but not enough to throw me into the pit and give up writing. The story selection process is extremely subjective, and I can deal with that. I just keep writing.

However, yesterday, on my way to take my sister to her chemotherapy treatment, I got my first novel rejection letter. This is another bird altogether, and due to the timing of the situation–dealing with jetlag and the issues my sister is facing–I was a little bent out of shape for a few hours.

My biggest complaint might seem strange, but I really wish it had been a form rejection. Just a simple “this isn’t for us, thanks for your submission”. As it was, the rejection letter praised my “well-written” work, and noted that the characters were engaging. Sure, that’s nice. But it also let me know the exact reason for the rejection.

And the reason? It’s a small detail that has very little bearing on the rest of the plot. It’s not even something I had to keep, just something I thought was neat.  I read over the letter again and again, and just couldn’t get my head around it. If they’d read a few more chapters, it would have been explained. It was supposed to be a point of intrigue! (But… instead was a point of FAIL)

Because of the conversational tone of the rejection letter, I was tempted to write back and argue my case. I mean, they even gave me suggestions to change that detail! It took me about thirty seconds to realize that that was a very, very stupid idea. In fact, it’s a kiss of death. You never write back after a rejection! NEVER. Especially as an unagented newbie… I need to be on absolute best behavior.

What’s hard is that I feel really, really ineffectual. And I hate feeling that way! I want to fight for my novel, to give it a chance, to argue my point. I joke that I’m cowardly, but I’m fighting a very knightly feeling to rise up and protect! Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to be mean about it–I understand their hangup in that it seems a little odd. I just want to show them what I did with it, as they didn’t read past the first three chapters.

But I can’t. I have to accept their decision, and move on, hoping that someone else will pick up the novel when I submit it again.

Rejection is part of the game, though. I’m continuing to think about it, and insist that this is all for the better, but can’t shake the crappy feeling. I guess that’s human. Still, I’m not flagging; I literally got the letter and wrote about 100 words in my WIP just because I sort of had to. Which is a victory in and of itself. The hardest thing about rejection is the feeling it gives you, how it makes you question what you love doing. But writing, for me, isn’t just about loving it, or sharing it. It’s about making a living, about improving.

And the only way to win against rejection is to get better at what you do.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett


  • wowmya

    Just elbow dropped on your blog for the first time. 🙂 Yeah, rejections sting, I still moan about short stories, let alone writing a novel and getting rejected. Anyways, wanted to say a quick ‘Good Luck!’ 🙂

  • Erik Stell

    Y’know what comes to mind when I hear about things like this? The studios that passed on the Star Wars movie when Lucas was shopping it around, or the many publishers who politely told Rowling and her little boy wizard to go away.

    Betcha they kicked themselves later…

    This is one of the things that scared me off from being a novel writer in the first place. The publishing process is so subjective, it makes you want to tear your hair out. That little point of intrigue “they” didnt like, was probably due to a single person (the reader in question) simply not getting it.

    I wont claim to know how the publishing industry works, but it would make sense to me to have multiple people at a publishing house to read and review a submission, before rejecting it, rather than the opinions of a single person. More work and time consuming: yes. Less chance for a good story to get tossed aside because of a single person: yes.

    When I was a senior in High School, there was a competition to design the senior class t-shirt. I entered a design, and the student body voted on it, an my design was chosen. However, there was one (rather loud, I might add) person who voiced her dislike of the design. It bothered me at first, but then I let it go because the body at large had already voiced their own approval, and she was but one person.

    I’m pretty sure that if the “body at large” dictated things in this case, you’d already be in print. Don’t burden your mind with the foolish assumptions/opinions of a single person.

    • Natania

      @Erik Yes, not everything is for everyone. I can deal. It just was an odd point. But, not the end of the world. Like I said: the timing was terrible! Now, onto other things.

  • Merrilee Faber

    One rejection doesn’t spell disaster 🙂 But I would look at that point carefully before sending out your next round of queries. Because it might seem minor to you, but it was obviously serious enough to stop the agent reading on.

    And that’s a killer.

    Ask yourself if it’s really important. If you think it is, fine, keep it, but certainly give it some cold, hard consideration first.

    • Natania

      @Merrillee Oh, certainly. I’ve already been looking at it. It’s one of those things that isn’t necessary in the plot, and must have came about more important than I meant it! There are a hundred ways I can tone it down, but I’m actually leaning toward revealing it further on in the MSS, where it’s explained beforehand…

  • Todd

    Funny. I googled “facing rejection letters” and this blog was at the top of the list. I was curious and wanted to read about some more wails in the darkness.

    Rejection letters suck. And like you write, the wise move is to let each one go. As James Baker Hall said, “Let it go into one ear and out the other. If anything’s good about it, let it stick.”

    But it’s entirely possible for the mind to construct a Rejection Demon out of all those pieces of paper and computer bytes, who leers and breathes the black fire of writerdeath into one’s skull.

    One must be careful and burn the Rejection Demon.

    Cool post.

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