Randy Ingermanson recently interviewed author Mary DeMuth in his “Advanced Fiction Writing E-Zine” and the topic of rejection surfaced. I thought it was very insightful and, with permission, am posting their conversation.
My friend Mary DeMuth recently published an e-book with the title The 11 Secrets of Getting Published.
Given that the price is only $2.99, I assumed the book would be about 50 pages with a few simple tips on breaking into publishing.
When Mary sent me a copy, I was astounded to find that it ran to 229 pages of solid information on breaking in. Developing your craft. Learning discipline.
Learning to accept critiques. Writing a query and a proposal. And tons more. Mary packed this book.
The chapter that hit home for me was titled, “Overcome Fear and Rejection.” You’d think I’d be good at that after 23 years of this writing game, but I still hate rejection and I still battle fear.
Last week, I did an interview on Skype with Mary for over an hour. We talked about several topics from her book. In this column, I’ll run only the conversation we had on fear and rejection. (I’ll publish the full conversation on my blog soon.)
Here’s our dialogue:
RI: One of the main sections of your e-book is about overcoming fear and rejection. That sounds a little like, “Don’t think about pink elephants.” You can’t do that by thinking about it. So how do you do it?
MD: As I said earlier, rejection is a sign of growth.
If you’re not submitting, you won’t be rejected. But if you are submitting, you will be.
RI: Well, aren’t you Miss Sunshine today?
MD: You have to settle your own issues of personal worth as you head into publishing or those rejections will mess with your mind.
RI: Expand on that personal worth thing. That’s something I wrestle with.
MD: Well, if I believe that publishing is the validation of my life, if I’m rejected, suddenly I have no validation. But if I realize my worth isn’t what I do but who I am, I can learn to weather rejection. It doesn’t have to devastate me.
RI: Personal worth for me is tied to achievement. So if I haven’t achieved anything yet, what’s my personal worth?
MD: Ah, Randy. All of us here would heartily agree that you’re worth your weight in gold (to use a cliche). I think this journey has been placed in front of me so that I’ll learn the important lesson that I am much more than what I produce and achieve.
RI: It seems like there are two mistakes to make though. The other error is the whole “self esteem” thing. So everybody gets a trophy, whether they did anything or not. It seems like we have to strike a balance.
MD: Yeah, and that’s what self publishing has done to publishing. I will run into people who have basically sent a Word file to a company and had it “published” with 100 typos and they feel like they’re published. Without any sweat or effort. Makes me a little crabby.
RI: I see a lot of writers with a misguided belief that just because they typed a story, it’s going to be a bestseller, just cuz. “Because I’m the center of the universe.” Well, they’ve certainly published, but not necessarily anything worth reading.
RI: But let’s get back to that self-worth thing. We need it in order to handle rejection. But if we have an exaggerated self-worth, then we ignore the very real critiques of our work that would force us to grow.
MD: Yes. You have to settle your calling. That’s what helps me weather the ups and downs of publishing. I know-know-know that I am gifted to write. That I’m supposed to write. Because of that settled knowledge, when I’m rejected, I can dust myself off and keep at it.
RI: How do you develop a realistic self-worth that will get you through the hard times without being crushed?
What I mean is, how do you “know” that?
MD: That’s a good question. For me it’s been looking back over my life and seeing all the input I’ve received over the years. Folks told me I could write when I wrote Christmas letters. My teachers saw the gift. And, yes, mentors have helped me hone the gift and encouraged me to continue.
RI: Maybe it comes down to a trusted editor or coach or friend? I critique a lot of writers at conferences.
What I notice is that most of them either think too highly of their own work or else too poorly. Very few have an accurate idea of how well they write.
MD: And I find when I meet someone who has a balanced perspective, he/she is most likely the person who will be published. We must be teachable, yet confident in our calling to write.
RI: Right, I was just thinking of Jim Rubart, whom I met a few years ago at a conference. I think he knew he had the goods, but he also knew that he needed some guidance. What I saw right away was that he was very well balanced.
MD: He’s a good example. And then he published a bestselling book with B & H publishing! But it took several years. That balance is a rare thing. He paid his dues. Learned the craft. And eventually published. He also is a marketer, so I think that helped too.
RI: I think most writers I run into suffer from the “I am dirt” mentality. But the ones in the most trouble are the “I am gold; kneel before me” writers. You can’t tell them anything.
MD: Note to writers who think they are dirt: You’re not. Rest there. Learn now, be teachable, and keep at it. True.
RI: I’ve only seen a very few writers who really were horribly bad writers. And oddly enough, I think all of them thought they were spectacular.
MD: I’ve seen a few. Yes, they thought they were awesome.
RI: I’d much rather coach an “I am dirt” writer. They can be taught, usually. Do you ever suffer from those feelings that your writing totally sucks and that you’re a fraud?
MD: Totally. Every time I hand in a manuscript, I panic. That happened recently. I wrote a book that I thought was schlock and that I’d surely be found out.
RI: Yeah, you get that horrible feeling that “This book is the train wreck which will expose me for the fraud I’ve always been.”
MD: I was very surprised when the editor emailed me praising the book, calling it a classic. Absolutely floored me. Yes, I think we all think that way. I wrote an article once about that for Writers Digest called “Inspiration vs. Perspiration.”
About how inspiration doesn’t always mean the prose is good. Nor does perspiration mean it’s bad. Often the best prose comes when we push our way through, painful word by painful word.
RI: Gack, that sounds . . . painful. So what’s the bottom line here for writers? On the fear and rejection thing?
MD: Perspire until the inspiration comes. Not vice- versa. On fear and rejection: it will come, but don’t wallow there. You have to be a bootstrap writer.
RI: I just had an insight. Maybe the best way to deal with fear and rejection is to know that other writers also have fears and hate rejection. Real writers. Published writers. Award-winning authors. Best-selling authors.
MD: Yes, we’re in community. And honestly, when I suffer from a big rejection, I go to my writer friends and ask them for advice. Usually I get encouragement back. And that makes me want to keep at it.
RI: So maybe the real answer isn’t “Suck it up.” Maybe the real answer is “Misery loves company.”
MD: True. The best thing you can do as a writer is form a community of like minded writers around you.
RI: A topic for another day. I just wrote a column on that in the June issue of my e-zine on the subject of what I call “Allies.”
Well, Mary, that about does it for today. We’ve talked just a little about one of the 11 topics you cover in your new e-book, The 11 Secrets of Getting Published. This book is now available for $2.99 at all the usual online retail outlets.
Here’s a link to Mary’s book on Amazon:
Visit Mary on the web here:
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 26,000 readers, every month. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.
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