Rejection – the good and the bad of it

Reject Rejection c/o Alex Pattakos via

Reject Rejection c/o Alex Pattakos via

As a writer who has been at this thing for quite a few years now and only last year was published for the first time, I have to say I’m used to rejection. In actual fact, I was so used to rejection that when I was finally told ‘yes’ I had trouble hearing it. In some ways, I’m not sure, even with 2 books published, if I fully believe it. The rejection always felt so viceral, so real, where the ‘yes’ is surreal, like I’m living in a dream. A lovely dream full of faeries and blowsy clouds and fluffy unicorns that prance around me singing songs about how fabulous I am and what talent I have. That dream that even while you’re in it, you know it’s not real – but you want to stay there because it’s just so lovely.

Funnily enough, the fear of rejection doesn’t go away once you’ve had a little success/taken that step forward on the path you’ve worked hard to get on. In fact, I think it is almost worse. I get that sick feeling every time I open my email, or the phone rings at unexpected moments. I don’t tell anyone about this, because I know they wouldn’t understand. I’ve been accepted. I should be fine now. But that’s just not true.

The world is ever changing and I know that my circumstances can change with it at any moment. I desperately don’t want that rejection to happen to me, but I know that it could. It’s happened to plenty of others before me. In fact, I’ve just heard from a few author friends who have received a ‘no’ on manuscripts that were part of series that had already started being published. This isn’t a new story – in fact, it’s an old one. Life is unknowable and things are never secure.

But, do you know what, even though this is horribly scary and fills me a black nausea at the thought of it happening to me, I do take comfort from the fact I’ve learned about rejection through my years as an actor and performer and now as a writer:

Rejection is rarely truly about me.

Sure, I can take the rejection personally, but the person who is rejecting me for a part, or rejecting my manuscript, is not telling me I’m rubbish. They’re not telling me my work is rubbish. All they are saying is that at that time, for them, it doesn’t fit. It goes like this:

They don’t see me in the role. I’m a tall redhead and they were wanting a small blonde.

I’ve got a light lyric soprano voice and they were really wanting a husky, ballsy alto.

They’ve just picked up a bunch of novels with a similar story trope to mine, so they don’t think they can sell mine too.

My story doesn’t fit into any acceptable box re the marketing of genres, so they can’t buy it because they don’t know how to sell it.

And so on and so on. I can rail about it all I like, but if the person in charge doesn’t think they can ‘sell’ me in that role, or sell the novel to a publishing house/their publishers/marketers, then they can’t. And do you know what – they probably won’t be the best advocate for me and my work if they aren’t 110% about it.

Jennifer Crusie wrote a blog the other day about this and it matched perfectly with what I’d been thinking on this subject for some time, and with what was going on with some of my writer friends.

It’s hard, but that’s reality.

Not all dreams are behind this door.

Not all dreams are behind this door.

The other thing I keep trying to remind myself (and that I reminded my author friends who had just weathered hard rejections) is that there are so many options out there for a writer now. When one door closes, it doesn’t mean the end of the dream like it used to. There are other new publishing houses, many of them digital who are ready and willing and able to pick up and market something different or outside the norm. And there is self publishing. Sure, there’s a glut of people out there self-publishing what really should have been kept to themselves, but there is also a bunch of fantastic work out there that would never have seen the light of day through traditional publishing simply because it lay outside of what someone thought they could market and sell. These might never be out there but for rejection.

I also remind myself that rejection brings strength. Every time I was told no for an acting job or no for a novel, I learned something valuable from the experience. Once I’d got over the sting (despite knowing it wasn’t about me, it still felt stingy), I asked why it had happened, was there something I could do to change it, something I could work on, make stronger etc etc. And every time, I put my head down, worked harder and got better at what I did.

So, while I fear rejection just like everyone else does, I know there can be a good side too – and so, for now, while I’m waiting for that email or phone call, I will try to keep this in mind and keep chugging ahead. Because unless I want to curl up in a ball and give up on my dream, that’s the only choice I have.

What about you? What are your thoughts on rejection and how to deal with it?

6 Comments on “Rejection – the good and the bad of it”

  1. Great post Leisl. Thanks for sharing your own journey. And the Jennifer Crusie post. I’d imagined yiou’d be feeling more secure somehow. But…I guess anyone in the creative arts is vulnerable.

  2. Great post, Leisl. My son did a drama auditioning workshop earlier this year and the presenter had a great saying – “you might be a french fry and they want an apple pie” πŸ™‚

    It’s definitely worth remembering that they aren’t rejecting you as a person. Although it can feel like it!

  3. This is a great, honest post, Leisl. I don’t think writers ever become immune to rejection. Even when we know it’s not us but our mss that’s being rejected, often due to reasons nothing to do with the quality of our writing, but the market, numbers, viability for that publisher, it hurts like hell. The hope and belief we’ve built up over the long, sometimes painful, gestation of a novel, where we face down many crises of confidence, is all geared up by the time we submit. We’re ready and waiting and needing validation, so if the axe falls, the cut is so much more painful. The great thing is that’s why we have writing buddies and believers to help us pick ourselves again and try for the next opportunity. Or new direction. Getting accepted the first time is only the beginning.

    1. So true, Chris. I couldn’t weather the tempest of writing without my writing friends. Rejection hurts, no matter the reason, but when you have people in your life who empathise and understand, it makes it bareable. Being in the depths of rejection right now, I know this to be absolutely true.

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