Rejection Remedies

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

An article in this Saturday’s Melbourne newspaper The Age on ‘the upside of being turned down‘ brought a smile to my face. It reminded me (as if I needed a reminder) of the universal truth in publishing that nothing is ever as dreadful (or as inevitable) as the ‘R’ word – Rejection. For authors it is a fact of life. What drew a smile was one of the ‘rejection remedies’ the article proposed, namely submission to the Journal of Universal Rejection, where your work is guaranteed to be rejected, thereby bringing some sanity to the whole crazy publishing process.

I looked up the Journal of Universal Rejection online (http://www.universalrejection.org/) and here are some of benefits of submitting to them:
  • You can send your manuscript there without suffering waves of anxiety regarding the eventual fate of your submission. You know with 100% certainty that it will not be accepted for publication.
  • There are no page fees.
  • You may claim to have submitted to the most prestigious journal (judged by acceptance rate)
  • The JofUR is a one-of-a-kind. Merely submitting work to it may be considered a badge of honor.
  • Decision are often (though not always) rendered within hours of submission.
The instructions for authors also made me chuckle. I particularly liked the statement that: “Rejection will follow as swiftly as a bird dropping from a great height after being struck by a stone. At other times rejection may languish like your email buried in the Editor-in-Chief’s inbox. But it will come, swift or slow, as surely as death. Rejection.

They also reprint some of their rejection letters on their blog🙂

For any writer, rejection is par for the course, but also the path to ultimate success. The only way to avoid rejection is take no risks and make no attempt to get published. But if you want to pursue your dream of being a published writer, rejection is inevitable (so why not enjoy submitting to a place where it is guaranteed!) What I liked was the fact that there are some out there willing to see an upside to rejection – who embrace it – and make us laugh.

So what remedies do you have for rejection?
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Handling Rejection

James Scott Bell

There’s an old Peanuts cartoon, where Snoopy is reading a rejection letter which says Please don’t send us any more. Please, please!
With a wry smile, Snoopy thinks, “I love to hear an editor beg.”
That’s one way to handle rejection.
There are others. We all know rejection is part of this crazy business. Whether it’s agent or editor, the default setting is to say No. Which means you have to find a way to handle the inevitable.
The best way is by continuing to write and submit. Here are a couple of quotes I like on the subject:
Let rejection hurt for a half hour, no more.  Then get back to your word processor. –Jacqueline Briskin
Never assume that a rejection of your stuff is also a rejection of you as a person. Unless it’s accompanied by a punch in the nose. — Ron Goulart
No matter how many rejections you’ve received, it’s probably not as many as Jack London, who apparently had a whole trunk full. Or Stephen King, who put his on a spike on the wall until the papers were falling off. They persevered to publication.
You can also look through the legions of rejections famous writers have received. The little book Rotten Rejections (Andre Bernard, ed.) has some gems.
A rejection of Tony Hillerman’s first Navajo detective novel: “If you insist on rewriting this, get rid of all that Indian stuff.”
Or this, for George Orwell’s Animal Farm: “It is impossible to sell animal stories in the United States.”
Maybe the most famous rejection was penned by Samuel Johnson: “Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.”
So there you go. It’s universal. It happens. The key is how you handle it.
How do you? Does rejection follow you around like a bad smell, or are you able to get past it and back to the keyboard?

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Blown Calls

UPDATE: I changed the title of the post because it started sounding a little more negative than I liked. You purists can still find it in the URL.

James Scott Bell

Maybe you heard about the terrible blown call in baseball last week. Pitcher Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers was on the verge of doing what only twenty other pitchers in Major League history have accomplished: pitch a perfect game (a no-hitter wherein no opposing player even reaches first base).

It was two outs in the 9th inning. Only one player left to go. But then the Cleveland Indians’ Jason Donald hit a grounder to the first base side. Galarraga ran over to cover. He caught the throw and stepped on the bag a split second before Donald’s foot.

In other words, Donald was out. Only he wasn’t.

He wasn’t because a veteran umpire, Jim Joyce, blew the call. He was in position to call it correctly, and did not. Because there is no instant replay review in MLB, the call stands. No perfect game. Not even a no-hitter. (For you trivia buffs, there have also been ten occasions where a perfect game was lost on the very last out.)

To their everlasting credit, all parties concerned handled things with class. Umpire Joyce manned up and owned it. He wept at his mistake. The Detroit fans showed class, too, by giving the highly regarded Joyce a standing ovation when he came out to umpire the next game.

And Galarraga and the Tigers did not do what 90% of other players and teams would. They did not overturn water coolers, or moan and complain.

Nor should they have. This is the reality of baseball. Human error by umpires is part of the game. You accept that going in. You know it’s going to happen. You want to change the rules and bring in replay, fine. But as it stands, blown calls are as much a part of baseball as peanuts and beer.

It’s like the publishing business, and life. Bad stuff happens to good people, and good manuscripts.

You get turned down by an agent in summary fashion. Your submission gets kicked at a publishing house for some reason other than the writing itself. You see someone else – maybe even a friend – score a great contract or get on the bestseller list. And it hacks you off, because you know you can write just as well, or better.

Life hands you blown calls. So what do you do about it?

When my son was first pitching Little League, he had a tendency to let a bad play or a home run upset him. So early on I made this rule for him. “You are allowed one ‘Dang it!’ And you can hit your glove as hard as you want. But that’s it. Then you go back to pitching to the next guy.”

That’s what he learned to do, and in fact won a championship game that way.

So you get that rejection, or see that unfairness. You can have one ‘Dang it!’ (or its adult equivalent). I’ll let you feel it for fifteen minutes. But that’s it. Don’t hang onto it. Don’t go moaning all over the Internet. Don’t yell at your spouse or kick your dog.

Instead, turn that energy into action – by writing.

Here’s what I love about being a writer. Every day is new. Every day I get to wake up and pound those keys and keep going. It doesn’t matter to me if I get a setback, a bad review, a rejection. I can keep punching, and I will keep punching until groundhog delivers my mail.

How about you? How do you handle blown calls?

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The best (worst) rejection letters

All writers experience rejection. Most published authors get turned down by numerous agents and editors on the road to publication. Learning to deal with “No” is part of the writing process—I’d even say it’s an important part. You have to be able to handle rejection to stick with writing long enough to get anywhere.

But no matter how you rationalize it, being rejected feels like crap. So whenever we get the dreaded “Not for us” email or letter in the mailbox, it can be comforting to recall the rejection-war stories of other writers:

In his book On Writing, Stephen King describes the wad of rejection notes he had stuck on a spike in his bedroom, and the encouragement he felt when he finally got one that said something along the lines of, “Not for us, kid, but try again—you’ve got talent.”

NPR’s Liane Hansen did a story that told the story of how soon-to-be famous writers, including Jack Kerouac and George Orwell, were rejected by the publisher Alfred A. Knopf. Possibly the best of the lot was the one that rejected Kerouac’s On the Road, in which an editor reportedly stated, “I don’t dig this one at all.”

My most memorable rejection came from an agent who had requested to read my manuscript on an exclusive basis. (My advice? Never give an agent an exclusive. It’s a better deal for the agent than the writer.) After keeping me in suspense for a long while, she eventually sent me an email along the lines of, “Dear Kathryn: I really wanted to like this story. But I just didn’t like the character; I didn’t like the story; I didn’t like the voice. In fact, I just didn’t like anything at all about it.” Ouch. Fortunately, the next agent who read the manuscript loved the story, agreed to represent me, and quickly got me a series contract.

What about you? What’s been your best/worst rejection letter thus far?

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The Query Quandary

By John Gilstrap
http://www.johngilstrap.com

Before getting to this week’s real topic, I thought I’d preen with a bit of shameless self promotion. A while ago, I revealed that I had optioned the film rights to my nonfiction bestseller Six Minutes to Freedom. I can now announce officially that I have signed on to write the screenplay as well. Hoorah! For details, please visit my website (see above). I am thrilled beyond belief.

We now return you to our originally scheduled blog . . .

I was chatting the other day with a writer-in-waiting who was distraught that “no agent wants to represent me.” Ah, the angst. She moaned, “I’m never going to be published.”

At that point, she’d collected 7 rejections. Seven. As in one less than eight. And they’re just cold-hearted form letters to boot. Can you imagine? Oh, please.

I wager most of us have a collection of blistering rejection stories. My favorite of the 27 rejections I accumulated before I finally landed an agent was the New York publisher whose rejection consisted of my own letter sent back to me with a stamp—you know, one of those rubber things that you pound on an ink pad—that said “No.” As if it would have broken her hand to actually hand write those two words.

Okay, I have another favorite, too: the one who sent me my rejection letter two months after my book had been published.

Rejections are a constant in this business. I know more than a few authors whose rejections numbered in the triple-digits before they finally made a connection. It’s just the way it is.

During this rejection stage, you often hear dejected writers complain, “Nobody wants my book.” Self pity aside, such is never the case. Nobody’s rejecting your book; they couldn’t possibly be. That’s because nobody’s seen your book. They’re rejecting your query.

In my experience, the vast majority of query letters suck.

They’re flat, lifeless bits of business correspondence that get lost in the shuffle of the hundreds of other bits of flat, lifeless business correspondence that litter an agent’s desk or email inbox every day. It’s astonishing, really, when you think that after spending months or years crafting a novel, a writer would quickly pound out a query letter and launch it into the world where creativity and originality of voice means everything.

At the moment when a query letter matters, it is the most important document of your creative life. It’s the only tool you have. It needs to be carefully nurtured. Carefully crafted. If you’re interested, I wrote an essay on query letters a few years ago. You can read it here: http://www.johngilstrap.com/essayqueryletter.html .

What about you? Have you got any inspiring (or frightening) rejection stories you’d like to share? C’mon, spill. We’re all friends here.

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The Blank Page––Make That The Blank Screen

By John Ramsey Miller

www.johnramseymiller.com

I have never had writer’s block. I have had my share of fits of laziness, but I can always sit down at my computer and knock out a chapter or three. I credit my time, in the late eighties, that I spent as an advertising copywriter with Hoffman/ Miller Advertising. Each day I would sit at a typewriter––an IBM Selectric first, and later an Apple Lisa–– and I would knock words out in short or long lines. I knew I wasn’t writing The Catcher In The Rye, but I took what I was doing seriously because I knew that companies and their employees depended on what I did to communicate what they offered, and that they depended on my judgment and creativity to grow their sales.

In those days, in a booming New Orleans, I would work on several accounts every day, so my mind was constantly changing gears between real estate, to jewelry, Italian clothing, oil & gas, tank storage farms, banking, foods, hot tubs, parking decks, mayonnaise, coffee & tea, chemicals, hospitals, restaurants, and other private, retail and wholesale clients whose needs varied. I wrote or directed to be written, brochures, catch lines, jingles, TV and radio spots, body copy and point of sale ads. There were always deadlines that couldn’t be missed no matter what else was going on, and we never missed one, although our suppliers did on occasion.

Most importantly, I learned to take rejection, and never to take it personally, and to get on to the next thing with enthusiasm and a clear head. We were a young agency and we often went up against other larger agencies and often we lost out, not based on our creative solutions, but because other larger agencies were seen as “safer”. We rarely had the advantage, but we often won with our creative approaches.

We’d begin campaigns by asking ourselves questions about what the client’s target customer was going to stop and look at, and what they might act on or would likely pass over. I was fortunate that I had a partner, Nathan Hoffman, who was and had a remarkable work ethic, and we didn’t care who came up with or got the credit for an idea that made sense.

I learned to take criticism of my ideas and copy and to make changes based on what other people who knew thought without feeling offended or slighted. If you don’t have a thick skin you can’t be successful in advertising or writing commercial fiction. Once we sold a new logo and accompanying campaign to a CEO of a large company, but before we left, he asked the cleaning lady who was emptying his trash can which one she liked, and she picked the old one and said she hated the one we’d agreed on because she “didn’t get it.” Even though she was accustomed to the old one because she knew it, she planted a bad seed in his mind and shook his confidence in the new logo. He had a point since a logo had to make sense to everyone and might be too radical a change too fast and leave some old customers baffled. We ended up doing an updated variation of the old logo, and nobody was lost in the shuffle. Once we had to throw out a campaign that was unfolding over several months because the client’s wife had a friend she trusted who was “bored” with the campaign and thought it ought to be more exciting. Explaining numbers of impressions needed over time to establish the client’s products was a waste of time. The client ate the expense of starting a new more exciting campaign because, and I quote, “I have to sleep with my wife.” All we could was what the client asked for.

I had one client, David Rubenstein, whose Rubenstein Bros. clothing stores told me. “John, you can agree with my ideas and do what I think is best against your better judgment, which is what I am paying you for, but if it fails, I’ll blame you. If you disagree, just say so, and if I go against your suggestions, I’ll take the blame.” Clients as perfect as David Rubenstein were indeed rare, but treasured by our agency.

So I think back on those days and what I learned, and realize that it helped me become the writer I am. I am easy to work with because I understand that it’s the end product that counts. Although I have a lot of control of my stories, I always listen to my agent and my editor because they know more than I do, and I am always ready to make whatever changes they feel will improve my work. And, you know, so far they have always been right.

When I am called upon to give advice to new authors, I can only go back to what worked for me, and most of it all goes back to those days when I was filling blank pages without knowing there was such a thing as writer’s block.

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