Nobody likes to be rejected. Not middle-school dance attenders. Not job applicants. And definitely not writers.
Unfortunately, however, rejection pretty much comes with the territory for writers—at least for writers who are brave enough to submit their work to agents or editors for publication. And it hurts. Every. Single. Time. Take it from me, I know. I’ve been rejected hundreds of times, and not only in the distant past. (I know, I know, it’s hard to believe that, at my current level of success and respect, I would continue to suffer rejection. ’Tis a puzzlement.)
But I’ve learned from rejection. Really, I have. Why are you still looking at me like that? I can even quickly list four things I’ve learned from rejection:
- The value of feedback
Every once in a while, I get a rejection with an actual comment from a real, live editor. Sometimes it’s a simple, “Not for us.” But, occasionally, a rejection will include a remark such as, “Your protagonist was pretty unsympathetic,” or, “We’re no longer acquiring Neanderthal romance,” or even, “This article could work for us if you’re willing to cut a few hundred words.” I receive such feedback with gratitude and pay close attention to what editors said, often thanking them (in a subsequent submission) for their kind efforts to explain or be helpful.
- The value of follow-through
Early in my efforts to write for magazines, I learned that planning ahead and being ready to resend a rejected idea to a new publisher or query a fresh idea to the rejecting editor softened the blow considerably. Instead of bemoaning editors’ inability to recognize the quality of my work (or, alternately, kicking myself for being such a horrible writer), sending out something on the heels of a “no, thank you” replaced the pain of rejection with renewed hope for success.
- The value of doing my homework
Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I put together a book proposal that was rejected 107 times. That’s not a typo. 107. That’s almost as many rejections as there are books in the Left Behind series of novels. I mean, come on, there aren’t even that many publishers of Christian books out there. Which is the point. Many of those rejections (mailed—back in those days—with actual postage stamps and an SASE) came from publishers for which my submission was totally inappropriate. Somewhere around the 100th rejection, I think it dawned on me that I should do my homework, rather than sending things out to every Willy and Nilly. (I should also have learned not to use phrases like that.)
- The value of perseverance
In the course of those 107 rejections, I learned many other things and made some adjustments and course corrections. But one editor rejected a proposal with a note saying something like, “I really like this, Bob, but just didn’t have room for it on my list this year.” Well, that was helpful feedback. (See #1 above.) So about eleven months later, I sent a note to that editor, asking if he might have room on his list this year. And, whaddya know and saints-be-praised, he did! The book was accepted, and published, and just missed becoming a best seller (by a few million copies).
So, yeah, rejection hurts. But for a careful and patient writer, it can become a form of discipline. And sure, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful” (Hebrews 12:11, NIV). But it can nonetheless produce a harvest for those who allow themselves to be trained by it.