Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I Got Those Low-Down, Sad and Lonely, No-Sleep, Cold-Coffee, Can't Seem to Sell Anything Rejection Blues

Three guesses what I got in the mail last week. And the first two don't count.

Two of the last three stories I've sent to a particular magazine have been rejected.

I sulked for a day. I wallowed for a few more. I tried to write something else and couldn't get the synapses to fire so I gave up -- just temporarily -- and read a couple books instead.

Have I lost my touch? Am I out of sync with the editor's needs? Is it just bad timing? Has my luck run out? Should I go buy a lucky rabbit's foot just in case?

Now's a good time to write about dealing with rejection I suppose. I doubt there's a writer among us who hasn't received a rejection letter. Mine read "Dear Contributor, Thank you for sending your story to us. Although your manuscript was given careful attention by our editorial staff, we regret that it does not meet our needs at this time. We appreciate your interest in our magazine and encourage you to not lose heart in your writing. We wish you the best of luck. Please feel free to submit further material to us. Sincerely, The Editors."

Lose heart? To quote from Mel Brooks's "The Producers" -- If your intention was to shoot an arrow through my heart... bulls-eye!

Dealing with rejection is rather like dealing with grief because in its own way, a rejection is a loss. It's a loss of hope, a loss of expectation, a loss of belief in yourself.

And how do you work through this loss? You progress through nine phases and end up back in the saddle with your expectations restored, your self-belief firing on all cylinders and your hopes high.

Maestro, cue the music!

Just what makes that little old ant
Think he'll move that rubber tree plant?
Anyone knows an ant, can't move a rubber tree plant.
But he's got high hopes, he's got high hopes.
He's got high apple pie in the sky hopes.
So any time you're gettin' low 'stead of lettin' go just remember that ant.
Oops there goes another rubber tree plant.

Phase 1: Denial

You're shocked, stunned and in need of oxygen. How could anyone have rejected your story? This can't be right. Denial is nature's way of trying to protect your psyche. To get through this, just work on accepting that your work has been rejected, not you as a person.

Phase 2: Bargaining

What if I'd... In dealing with grief, this is usually a dead-end alley. No amount of bargaining will change things. But with a rejected manuscript, you might have a little bargaining power if the editor asked for revisions or if there's another place to submit it. If not, stop with the "what if's" and move on. Try to learn from the experience and apply those lessons forward to your next project.

Phase 3: Loneliness

Here comes the "Woe is me" part. You feel isolated and your self-worth takes a beating. You're sure you are the only person whose manuscript was ever rejected. At this point, you should surround yourself with people who care about you. If you are part of a writers' group, let them know about your rejection and I'm willing to bet my retirement account they'll rally around and tell you (a) you're not the only one ever rejected and (b) you're special to them regardless.

Phase 4: Heartbreak

Well, since my baby left me,
I found a new place to dwell.
It's down at the end of lonely street at Heartbreak Hotel.

Despite working on phases 1 through 3, you still find yourself crying and feeling awful. You might try listening to upbeat music or doing an activity that you really, really enjoy. If you seem to have taken out a long-term lease on a room at that hotel, you may need to literally try snapping yourself out of your funk by putting a rubber band around your wrist and snapping it when you start sinking under the covers at the end of lonely street. Here's where your support group comes back into the picture. Reach out to them again and tell them how you're feeling.

Phase 5: Depression

If you don't check out of Heartbreak Hotel, it's easy to sink into the Depression Dungeon. This is where you not only feel sad and worthless, but you wallow. You schlep around the house in the same pajamas for three days and eat Beenie Weenies straight from the can for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Call the support group back in! Keep busy. Exercise. Go out to lunch with a friend. Get a manicure and/or pedicure. Try a little retail therapy (but not too much because you don't want to get depressed about next month's credit card bill). If this doesn't work, seek help from a counselor or your doctor.

Phase 6: Blame

When the really intense feelings of denial and loneliness and heartbreak go away, then you start playing The Blame Game.

I'll take "I Stink" for $100, Alex. Give me "My Worthless CP" for $500. How about "Editors Who Don't Know a Good Manuscript When They See One" for $1000?

Your emotions are running high right now so turn off the game and stop the destruction. Remember there are two sides to every situation. Think about what you've learned from the rejection and how you can improve the current manuscript and write an even better one next time. But put all the game pieces back in the box and throw it away.

Phase 7: Anger

How dare they reject me? Has that agent/editor lost his/her mind? You can hang out here, but only for a little while. Go outside and throw rocks at a tree. Stomp around the house. Cuss if you will. This can be cathartic and letting all the anger out is liberating. Otherwise you end up with an ulcer the size of an inner-city ghetto and just as nasty. But put a time limit on the anger. Tell your friends to get on your case if you let it go on too long because if you don't move on, you risk becoming bitter. And nobody likes to be around a bitter person.

Phase 8: Acceptance

Okay, the manuscript wasn't perfect. It wasn't a good match for that particular line. The middle sagged. The GMC was all wrong. It wasn't right. IT wasn't right, but you're okay. And you'll be even better because you learned from the experience.

Phase 9: Healing

You're done with denial, bargaining, loneliness, heartbreak, depression, blame and anger. You've accepted the situation. Now you heal and move forward with an open mind (and heart) and focus on the next project. You know it was only your manuscript that was rejected, not you as a person. Your group of friends who have rallied around you are still your friends -- perhaps even closer friends for having weathered this storm together. Good for you! Now get your fanny back in that chair and start writing!

You know, I think I've made myself feel a little better by writing this. Maybe I'll pull out my idea file and see what clicks (if I can find it -- my new filing cabinet was delivered yesterday and my office is currently in a state of disarray while I move files, clean out stuff and move books from one bookcase to another). And while I'm at it, perhaps I should use PC's example from yesterday and start a "Yay Me!" and "Rah-Rah" file cause I was sure having a slug day.

How do you deal with rejection? Got any tips to add to my "9 Step Program?"


Kathy said...

Wow! First let me start off by saying, I'm sorry you received another rejection, PM. Anyone can see by reading this post what a talented writer you are. Remember that magazine may have printed another story similar to yours or had just accepted one. Sometimes it's about more than the story.

Let me say, AGAIN. WOW! This 9 step list is fabulous! If other writers don't print this off and save it to read when they are in the rejection dumps, they're crazy.

What do I do? I'm not a good one to ask. I spent 1 month going to see the POTO 11 X, often by myself. I bought the soundtrack and listened to end non-stop. I wallowed and wallowed and couldn't write for 3 months. That rejection from an editor hit hard. But... in hind sight, it also drove me to join a local writer's group and helped me meet authors, and especially the playfriends. Good things come from bad, lessons are learned, and the skin gets thicker. All we can do is keep charge ahead. And who but fate knows where the road leads.


Problem Child said...

Okay. That's 3 rejections for the Playfriends. We've met the magic "bad things happen in 3s" deal.

We're due for some good news, darn it!

Smarty Pants said...

Yeah, I was just trying to figure out what step I'm on...


Maven Linda Howard said...

Save time and go straight to steps 8 and 9.

A bad review is basically the same thing as a rejection: someone didn't like your baby. I've developed strategies for dealing with it. If it's a review, I'll think, "Jerk." If it's a letter from a reader accusing me of all sorts of things such as hiring someone else to write my books, telling me it's trash, etc., -- as soon as I realize what kind of letter it is, I throw it in the trash. Even if it has a SASE with it. I never reply. I never even finish reading.

Why? Because there's nothing I can do to change that reader's mind. I can't re-write the book to her specifications, which is probably the only thing that would satisfy her; it's already in print. If she made several erroneous charges, and I refute them, have I won a friend and kept a reader? Get real. So I make it easier on myself and throw the letter away. Yes, I'm angry and hurt for a while. Yes, it prevents me from writing for a while, usually the rest of the day. Eventually, I get over it.

Angel said...

Can I say Amen to all of the above? :)

I usually go through all of this at some point or another. When my smaller pieces get rejected, it doesn't bother me as much, probably because I have less invested in them.

But let my books get rejected and I really struggle. I think one reason is because I have few avenues for that piece of work once it is rejected, because I'm targeting category. It's not like I can just send it somewhere else. I'd have to completely rewrite the book to make it longer, which isn't something I feel qualified for yet.

Thanks, PM, for these insights. Like Kathy said, I think this is great to print off and keep on hand for that next rejection (I say as I wait for news on two proposals).


Kate Walker said...

Oh Marilyn - I just dropped by to say thakn you for visiting my blog - and I found your post. I have to send {{{{{hugs}}}}} of sympathy. I do understand - I've been there. And that any and rubber tree plant song is always in my mind too.

I don;t have any clever ways of dealing with rejection - only one way I ever handled it and that is the 'If you never try you never have a chance' approach. I hoep you can look at your courage in sending out those submissions and see that that makes you stronger and braver and means that you've tried harder than so many people. Those who say 'oh, I could write a book/get published - if I tried. . .' They don't even bother to try.

Rejection stinks but you should be proud of yourself for getting to that stage - you wrote the stories, you finsihed them, you had the courage to submit them - and you'll have the strength to get over the rejectiosn too.

If it helps, every single magazine story but one that I submitted was rejected. Short stories are a tough market - I'd be willing to bet that I'd be rejected now too.

I do hope you'll be able to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again

I'll keep my fingers crossed for you