Rejection: Not just for newbies

 

Before we get started: This post will resonate most with traditionally-published authors and those aspiring to sign with a traditional publisher. Self-published authors are most certainly welcome to keep reading, but fair warning it may not resonate as much with you since I'm talking mostly about being rejected by traditional publishers!

 

I got an email from my agent this past week notifying me that a major publishing house had passed on my most recent submission—a standalone book, and a story that I'm completely enamored with.

And yet, despite my enthusiasm for the project, this editor was not the first to pass on the book.

In fact, this rejection marked the end of the road for this book finding a home in traditional publishing.

Because despite plenty of international interest in the proposal, this book has been rejected by every US editor who's seen it.

(Actually, I guess I should be completely transparent here: it's been rejected for print by US editors. I've had a few digital-only offers, but I'm no longer making myself available for e-book only book deals.) The moral of the story here?

Rejection is a completely normal part of this career, and not just when you're first starting out.

Nobody told me that! When I first began pursuing the path of publication, I thought the hard part was getting your foot in the door with that first book deal, and that once you were in, you were in.

I. Was. Wrong.

Rejection happens at all stages, except perhaps at the very tippy-top of the publishing hierarchy (think James Patterson, Nora Roberts, JK Rowling, though who knows, maybe even they've been told no on a particular story!)

And yessss, I'll be super candid here: It is frustrating. It's frustrating to have published 30 books (eleven of them USA TODAY bestsellers), to have sold well over a million copies, to be translated into multiple languages, and yet to still have an editor look at your story idea and be like ...

"Nah."

Even more puzzling ... it's not just me. My inner author circle contains several bestselling writers, many of them who way outsell me on a regular basis, who've commanded enormous advances, who've been at the very top of the NYT bestseller lists, who've gotten onto the bookshelves of Target, who are titans of industry, and guess what? They too encounter publishers saying nah to their latest book proposals. It's puzzling. It sucks. But it is, apparently, the name-of-the game!

3 tips for easing the sting of rejection

  • Know that you're not alone. Almost every writer I know has been rejected at some point in her career, and not just at the beginning. It's not just you hearing no, I promise.
  • Listen to a "fight song." Whenever I get a rejection (or someone tags me in a negative review that I totally didn't need to know about), I play one of my "fight songs." The ones that jolt me out of my bad mood and get my head right again. My favorites are "Eye of the Tiger" (impossible not to feel invincible while listening to that song!), "Shake it Off" by Taylor Swift, and "Make Your Own Kind of Music" by Cass Elliot, for when I'm feeling retro and timeless.
  • At work, or some place you can't listen to music? Have an inspirational quote or two that accomplishes the same effect. I keep a handful of them in Bear (Evernote alternative). Current go-to quotes:

"Never let anyone dull your sparkle."

"Be thankful for closed doors, detours, and roadblocks. They protect you from paths and places you're not meant to be."

"Rejection doesn't mean what you have to offer isn't valuable—you're just trying to give it to the wrong person."


Once you've shaken off the sting of a publisher rejection, it's time to decide what to do next. It used to be that if a publisher didn't want your book, you had to go write something else in hopes that they'd want the next one. Self-publishing has changed all that. Now, we writers have options!

Developing a post-rejection action plan

==========================================

Step One

Have a really long, hard talk with yourself.

Because you have to decide:

a) Do you have enough faith in your book to push forward with it, even if publishers aren't feeling it?

or;

b) Is the book maybe getting rejected because it's simply not strong enough either in writing or in story-concept.

I've been in both camps. The first book I ever wrote was rejected by four agents (the only ones I had the courage to query), and quite honestly, it should have been. It was in no way ready for publication, something I think I knew on some level even before the rejections, hence why I quit after four and wrote something else instead.

But. I've also had publishers pass on a story idea I was very confident in. I kept pushing, eventually found a home for that oft-rejected story, and it went on to be my #1 bestseller of all time, and is solely responsible for me breaking the "six-figure salary" benchmark.

The book I mentioned at the beginning of this post is in the latter category—I don't know that it will be a bestseller, and I don't care. But I know in my gut that I need and want to write this book, regardless of publisher interest, so I'll be self-publishing it.

Trust your gut here.

There's no shame in setting a book aside and deciding to come up with something that feels stronger, but there's also nothing egotistical about saying, "Nope, the publisher got it wrong. This story deserves to see the light of day."

And remember, even if your book isn't destined for bestseller status, it doesn't mean it isn't worth publishing! Every story can find an audience—it may not be the biggest audience, but that's not what writing is about. It's about telling your story, your way, even if it's only for the handful of people who appreciate it.

Step Two

(Not always applicable, but it often is, and rarely gets discussed:)

Decide if you want to play the game.

As in, the publishing game.

Trust me, the world of traditional book publishing is not nearly as straight-forward as I once I thought it would be. I used to think the book submission process looked like this:

  1. An author writes a book or a proposal for a book and submits it to an editor.
  2. The editor says yes (hopefully), or no, in which case you take it to an another editor who will (hopefully) say yes. Repeat until said book finds the right home.

In reality, it more often looks this:

  1. An author writes a book or a proposal for a book and submits it to an editor.
  2. The editor is like, "Nah, not that one. But we're still interested in working with you/like your voice/etc. What else do you have?"

To this, I say:

Beware.

I'm not saying you shouldn't work with a publisher who wants some input into what you write next. And it can definitely be flattering to have an editor interested in your writing.

But the process of coming up with a story idea solely to please an editor can be soul-sucking and creativity-draining if you let it be. Some writers don't mind brainstorming marketable ideas, others can become frustrated by this "plot by committee in order to chase sales" approach. Figure out which camp you fall into as soon as possible, and you'll save yourself some major frustration.


Next steps ...

Okay, so now you should have decided on one of three paths:

a) you're staying committed to your story, either by continuing to try and find an editor who's interested, or by self-publishing it, or;

b) you've decided to chalk the story idea/book up to "practice," and set it aside to focus on something new, or;

c) you haven't completely quit on the story, but you've set it aside to prioritize coming up with a story idea to please a publisher

All paths are perfectly respectable, but it's so important that you choose one of them.

Why?

Because being rejected can sometimes make us forget that we're in control—we let ourselves the object (the rejected) of someone else's (the rejector's) agenda.


By having a post-rejection action plan, you reframe the situation so that you're the subject, the one doing the doing.


Banish this passive nonsense from your mind:

"X publisher rejected me."

Instead, select one of the following affirmations, and make it your phone/computer wallpaper, and/or read it every single morning until it coms true!

  • I am a talented writer, and I will find a publisher who appreciates {name of rejected book}.
  • I am a talented writer, and I will self-publish {name of rejected book.}
  • I am a talented writer, and I will will set {name of rejected book} aside to focus on something fresh that feels even stronger.
  • I am a talented writer, and because I'm excited about the possibility of a book deal with {interested publisher} I will give them up to 2 (or whatever) alternate story ideas to offer on, before self-publishing my original idea, or moving on to another publisher who better appreciates my storytelling instincts.

Remember:

You are the heroine of your own story. That rejection? Merely a plot twist on the path to your happily-ever-after.


Writing: BusinessLauren Layne