Saturday, September 14, 2013

Rejecting Rejection

No writer likes this topic. If you’re a first time author, seasoned pro or bitter veteran, rejection is a term and a concept you know well. If you send your work out, nine times out of ten it’s coming right back.

Rejection should not be taken personally. It’s not you they are rejecting, authors are told, just the work. This is true, and I’ve never had a problem making that distinction. What we create is art, but when it goes out the door it becomes product. That can be a bitter pill to swallow.

Rejection letters themselves don’t make things any easier. If your work is being turned down, it is only natural to wonder why. Most rejection letters won’t contain that kind of information – you’ll get a form letter telling you your work wasn’t accepted with some vague and impersonal turn of phrase. And usually after a wait of several months, or even years (two years is the longest I’ve had to wait). Nothing says ‘you are nobody’ like a letter that arrives after nearly a year, saying “unfortunately your work does not meet our needs at this time.”

“Editors are very hard-working, busy people,” I have been told. “They have so many stories/books/stuff to go through. You can’t expect them to give feedback on every piece of writing they receive!” I’ll go that one better – I had a writing teacher tell me that the publishers I sent material to “don’t owe you a response.” They didn’t ask for my story, so why should they bother with a detailed rejection letter? If they’ve sent any kind of correspondence at all (in a self-addressed stamped envelope that I provided and paid for), then it is a courtesy and I should be grateful. They are doing me a favour!

First of all, bullshit. If nobody sent stuff to publishers, they would have nothing to make money from. Yes, they will keep asking for material from Name Authors, but there are only so many Names to go around. Publishers will always need new talent, and your book might be their next meal ticket. If they receive a work that could potentially earn them money, then they owe that writer a response. It’s just good business.

Second of all, publishers and editors have been allowed to set all the rules. Many of them don’t want writers to submit the same material to multiple publishers at the same time (simultaneous submissions). With publishers like these, you send them your work and must then wait for a response before sending it elsewhere! If they don’t send a response, you have no way of knowing if they are interested or not, and your work is stuck in limbo. If you are going to insist on exclusivity to any manuscript that comes in, and then take several months to read it, you owe that writer a response.

Third of all, just because it’s bullshit doesn’t mean it isn’t the way things are. Publishers have the money and the means to publish, and that makes them the dungeon masters. If they set up a business model that is good for them and bad for writers, then too bad. Suck it up and accept it, they will say, or stay out of the game.

Rejection is a way of life for writers, and the sooner you come to terms with it, the better. It’s not personal, so don’t take it that way. But don’t get used to it, and don’t ever like it. Bug publishers. Write follow-up letters/emails. Call them, even if they specifically say not to. Maintain as much control as you can – tell publishers that if you haven’t heard from them within a reasonable timeframe, you will consider the material rejected and send it elsewhere. Keep a copy of that correspondence with the date on it so you can prove you sent it. It’s one thing for publishers to reject your story. They do not have the right to reject your dignity.

No writer likes dealing with rejection, but we all learn how to. It is a part of the business. And there’s the thing – it’s a business. That goes both ways, with each party respecting the other. One day, the tables may be turned. Keep that vision in sight, and persevere.

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