Anatomy of a Rejection

Well, friends, the weekend was good (family here, unbelievably cold Ice Festival, lots and lots of Australian Open matches, crosswords & coffee) but a bit overshadowed by yet another rejection letter on Friday.

Got to admit: this one was more disappointing than usual.

Probably because it’s the first time I thought I had a pretty decent chance of getting picked up. The book is my best work by far. The agent initially sounded warm.

But no.

There’s a certain sense of whiplash about this one too. The last book had structural flaws, but every agent complimented me on some aspect of the writing. This time around, my plot is apparently just peachy. This time it’s the characters who are unacceptably “flat.”

After enough rejection, you can’t help but notice the pattern that emerges. First the disappointment, maybe a little annoyance—how can it possibly take an agent nine weeks to flip through a book and write a 3 sentence rejection letter? This is, of course, just an emotional buffer so you don’t have to think about what the rejection means. At least for a few hours.

Eventually, though, you have to go through the second part: the enormous, nagging sense that this one agent and this one letter represents some sort of Great and Unalterable Truth about your value as a human being and your potential for success over the course of the next 30-50 years.

But, yes, it will feel legitimately scary.

I usually start thinking about finding a job that pays slightly better than zero an hour. Sometimes I even look for one. This part used to last for days—after going through this a bunch of times, I’m pretty sure how long this period lasts is just a gauge to let me know how insecure I’m feeling about myself. The more I care what other people think about me, the more I feel my value depends on my success, the worse this part feels.

In the end, who am I kidding?

Whatever happens I’m going to keep writing. Carl says the only way he would feel happy about me quitting is when I’ve written a book I feel is perfect. If I write a book I’m 100% happy about and it doesn’t sell no matter what I do, then I can quit without regrets. The whole “other job” thing is an emotional clutch. I understand that, but I also always feel it—for anywhere between a few hours or a few days.

After that comes the slow thawing out. The brain starts turning. You start trying to figure out how a dried out little sentence like “the characters are a bit too flat” can be juiced into providing a roadmap for the next draft. What does that mean? Which characters? Does it mean they aren’t complex enough, aren’t motivated enough, or aren’t flamboyant enough? Because those are all pretty different things.

That’s when you go back and start playing the mental tapes of what your other, more verbally voluminous, readers have said, trying to match up both perspectives and get a little depth in the picture.

And finally, you pull out your rough draft calendar of the year and try to figure out where to pencil in the 4-6 week revision period you now need. It’s looking like late April in my case. Am 60 pages into the new book, and I don’t want to lose the momentum I’ve got going there. I should have a rough draft finished by mid-April. Execution‘s 2D population will have to chill for a couple months.

So, no, this never feels good. But it is what it is, and I do what I do, and I guess the only thing you can really do is shrug and move on.

Maybe watch some tennis. Maybe make a chocolate cream pie. Maybe jot down some notes on that crazy fantasy storyline I’ve dreamed two nights running.

It’s all good.

I guess.

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6 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Rejection

  1. Oh blast. Am so sorry that you’ve been turned down again. Failure hurts, in any form. I sure know that. I hope the pain eases quickly.

    I’m with Carl too. Only quit for perfection.

  2. You’ve dreamed a fantasy storyline two nights in a row? So cool. I am “keeping a dream journal” this year but I haven’t had a single interesting dream since Christmas. How’s that for boring.

  3. Sigh. I’m so sorry. I totally, totally know what you mean about the whole process you go through. Rejection is one of the hardest, most doubt-inducing things there is. I’m so glad you have Carl to tell you the truth it can be easy to forget in the midst of a rejection.

  4. Oh ham!!! I’m so sorry about this rejection! I had hoped this would be your break through! But I’m also really proud of you for not giving up! I think you are brilliant and please don’t let anyone make you feel small or worthless!

    On a different note. I recently had this big discussion with Jon about me using too many exclamation marks, and I told him that’s just my style and people who know me will know how I mean it. I just noticed that I put an exclamation mark after every single sentence in the above paragraph, and conlude that the more exclamation marks I set, the more emotionally involved I am. !!!!! I am so so sorry that this one didn’t work and I’m sure there is an agent somewhere out there who is going to find you!!! Ha!

  5. I really admire you and pleased you have a Carl to help put you together again when these things happen. It is so important not to take things like this personally and so good that you have people who believe in you and what you do.

  6. Thanks for the support! Y’all are great.

    Linda, you are ALWAYS welcome to leave exclamation points all over my blog. 🙂 I tend to capitalize words randomly, which is probably equally incorrect… but writing is about personal expression, right?? Exclamation points are exactly who you are. More power to your punctuation!

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