Lesson 2 – Laugh in the Face of Rejection
“You have to take risks. We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen.” – Paulo Coelho
This lesson is easier said than done. I do have to painfully admit that I have received rejection letters that made me furiously angry. Thankfully, none of them were too scathing, as I’ve heard they can potentially be. Remember, there was someone who told J.K. Rowling not to quit her day job when they took a peek at Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
I should really be teaching you about rejection in the literary industry and how to go about handling it in a different lesson, but I decided to tackle this issue now because it’s important to realize that when you put your work out into the world, people are usually not so kind. If this is something that you will not likely be able to handle, you’re left with two choices it.
Learn to handle rejection, both good and bad, or let the know-it-alls win. Pride is one of the seven deadly sins, but in this case, I consider it an asset. At the end of the day, you know whether you put a half-assed product on the market. We all become victims of that at some point or another, and it’s important to learn form that lesson. Never let anyone tell you that your work is bad if you truly know in the pit of your gut that you put your best product out.
In my literary journey, I received around twenty-five combined rejections from agents and publishers. Now that doesn’t sound too nasty, but I’m almost positive there were plenty more that I’m not remembering because most rejections come in the form of never receiving an answer. One of my twenty-five counted rejections was just downright mean and didn’t make any sense. Until this day, I’m convinced it was packaged with some sort of an agenda, whether it be political or personal. I made it my mission from that day on to make sure that my work, and that particular work, would hit the shelves. The way we use rejection plays a role in the way that we succeed.
With that being said, here are three types of rejection letters that I have received and that you will likely receive as well:
The Harsh Rejection:
Thanks for your patience on this one. It is rare that a man raised in this environment would be able to expose himself like this. But I think for a wide audience the tone is pretty harsh and would come across as anti-female. I know you did your very best and it came from the heart, but your character and crustiness came across as unlikable. It’s a pass. I am sorry.
The Lukewarm Rejection:
I thought the premise was intriguing, but I wasn’t as involved in the story or writing as I needed to be. Sorry this didn’t work for me, but thanks for sending it along.
The Nice Rejection:
Thanks so much for your patience while I review your novel. It’s clear the author is channeling a personal experience—I’m afraid that I didn’t find the scope of this story to be one that we could easily market. We need to find strong selling comps for our acquisitions, and I’m afraid the kinds of books that are working these days are quite different.
Do you want to know what each of these rejections had in common? If you see it before I even say it, keep it pinned to the forefront of your mind. Each of these rejections says that my novel was not marketable. In other words, it’s not some of the societal crap at the tippy top of the bestsellers list that is the most likely to appease the masses and trending cultural swings.
My work is different, and I intended on it being that way from the beginning. I commend these publishers/agents for realizing this, but they had one thing wrong - I knew my book was marketable, and that each of these rejections helped me realize that and pushed me towards a goal that I never realized was so close in sight.
If you’re ever graced with an answer that isn’t automated, you will likely receive each one of these kinds of rejections. The key is to pull something from each of them and learn from it. Yes, I’m sure you could have figured that out from Yoda or Confucius. This probably brings you to ask why you are wasting your time listening to me when your Tumblr could have probably given you the same advice.
I have two responses to that question, the first is, “People still use Tumblr?” The second is, “I will teach you how to use rejection in a healthy way that won’t damage your budding career.”
The best course of action is to take your rejection letters and analyze them. Print out the rejection letters or negative feedback and keep them somewhere handy. Seriously consider what the person who looked over your work said. If your heart of hearts tells you that they’re full of shit, then go with your gut. If you know that there needs to be changes, accept it and make the changes. There could be a little bit of both, and for me that was the key to success.
I can assure you the best thing to do is not give a nasty response to the know-it-all literary experts who say that elephant shit is currently in right now, when in fact they have no clue what they’re talking about.
Hearing some (I emphasize some because not everyone is the same) industry professionals talk about what will work and what won’t honestly makes my head hurt. It reminds me of the scene from the movie, Big, where it literally takes a child to get professional toymakers to know what sells.
When I first thought I’d written the greatest novel of all time, my own personal version of what would end up being a timeless classic, I sent my novel out with only a single round of editing and a synopsis that was probably around two sentences.
It’s ok, you can laugh.
I thought to myself, “If I compare myself to another bigtime author, recent or not, that’s the key.”
Well young Padawan, so does everyone and their mother too. If you send that over to an agent or publisher, you’re likely to end up in the slush pile faster than you can say, “but.”
There are no ifs, ands, or buts in the world, it’s not necessarily about your work either. What counts is the way you spin it and finding the right audience to spin your work to, otherwise you’ll end up in a cycle of never-ending rejection.
For Example, it’s likely not wise to market a story about the fall of the Soviet Union to Hachette Book Group’s Forever Yours romance publication. Believe me when I say there will come a time that you’re so desperate that you consider something like this on the off chance that you find the guy/gal that knows the guy/gal.
Rejection isn’t about comparing your work to another, mimicking another type of author’s writing style, and curtailing your work to an agent/publisher’s liking. You could tweak your book in a specific direction all you want, and it doesn’t mean it’s going to appease anyone or a specific audience. You have to write about what wants to come out of you, not what’s currently in or out of the market. While some agents/publishers might call this literary suicide, I call it balls.
A wise man named Tony Montana once said, “The only thing I got in this world is my balls, and my word, and I don’t break ‘em for nobody.” Yes, I decided to quote Scarface, and for a reason. Some genius decided to say that Scarface was too violent and glorified the drug trade, when in fact it was intended to show the opposite. Wouldn’t one think people should see the violence happening within the drug trade? Assuming people are going to mimic stories they see on television, read in a book, or watch in a movie is the oldest trick in the book to try and restrain your thought process.
Critics tried to do the same to Todd Phillips’ Joker, dubbing it a violent fantasy land, meanwhile the film was a pure work of genius.
When I was growing up, I watched Teletubbies and played Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, I turned out just fine.
I’m not saying that people can’t fall through the cracks and reenact something they see, but it’s not something that necessarily happens often or daily. We can’t live our lives scared that other people may get a negative idea from something we create. If this were true, Quentin Tarantino would have been out of business a long time ago.
Now ask yourself, what do all of these examples I listed have in common? The person behind each story was not afraid to put some crazy thoughts onto the screen.
A director and screenwriter I always looked up to is David Chase, who is the creator of The Sopranos, I show I felt changed the history of television forever and paved the way for future shows like Breaking Bad. How many people thought that a New Jersey mobster who has a murderous mother and almost gets killed for seeing a therapist was a good idea?
The answer was, not a lot.
Chase thought the show was going to get pulled right after the pilot aired because it was too different from what people wanted. Also, it’s rare to find a television series about an Italian mother who hates her kid enough to put a mob hit on him.
Well, guess who was right and wrong? I feel bad for the people that passed on this script. Chase had a product that he knew he could deliver to audiences, even if he was nervous about it.
My own rejection story is similar to each of these, and I want to say that there was likely a lot of truth in some of the rejections that I received, I’m not all bitter. Before getting published, my book had its cover redone three times, was edited four times, and reprinted with different types of binding more than five times. I sent out copies that were riddled in typos and had one or two small plot holes. There was a lot wrong with my work, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t going to be successful.
There were both truth and fluff in my rejections, and the key for you is to weed out each.
Even though my first novel managed to get published, I still felt I restricted a lot as a writer from the fear of readers attacking me. There will be one or two people who will actually take the time out of there day to yell at you because a character’s tone was not nice, but then again, these people are sitting in a basement with nothing else better to do. You have to take it from where it comes from and laugh in the face of rejection.
Now, do you think you’ll be able to handle the Simon Cowells of the literary industry? The answer better be, "Yes," because trust me when I say they’re out there.
Actually, now that I think of it, self-publishing a book has a big comparison to American Idol. There’s going to be William Hung, there is going to be Kelly Clarkson, and not everyone can go to Hollywood.