At my first writers’ conference, with trembling hands and sweaty palms, I presented my first five pages to an agent. She said they were interesting and showed promise and, if I could sell them to a publisher, to come back and see her. I bit back the first words that came to mind, “If I can sell it to a publisher, why would I need you?” No sense in blowing up the bridge while I’m still on it.
My first taste of rejection as a writer. I was also rejected by the draft board but that was actually a relief.
When I walked away from her table, what stuck with me was she found my writing promising. A thin sliver of light in that dark cloud of rejection.
I also pitched to two publishers at that conference. Both asked for proposals. One subsequently sent me a polite rejection letter. The other I never heard from again.
All in all, my manuscript was rejected six times before it won the Operation First Novel contest. I hear Jack London was rejected over 700 times. That helps keep things in perspective.
How we handle rejection is a sign of our maturity as professional writers and as Christians. Yes, rejection hurts. For some of us, a lifetime of emotional and physical rejection makes us even more sensitive to rejection from an agent or publisher.
The key is to not personalize the rejection. Easy to say. Hard to implement. I’m one of those in the above paragraph. From childhood, I have been sensitive to being rejected and usually exaggerated the smallest slight into a major rejection.
My manuscript was rejected, not me. How did I reach this point? By working through the CWG Apprenticeship, Journeyman, and Craftsman courses. By risking in critique groups. By listening to my mentor. By developing the thick skin that Jerry B. Jenkins strives for all of us to develop.
Handling rejection is a learning process. There is no magic pill for it. You have to go out there and risk. And risk with the knowledge that your manuscript is not you. Yes, it is a part of you, a vital part, in some cases, maybe the best part of you.
Rejection can show us how to improve our writing to reduce the chance of rejection next time. It can motivate us to re-write and edit and improve our craft.
Rejection is an opportunity. How we handle it determines whether it is an opportunity for growth or for defeat.