“You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.”
– Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury had amassed over 500 rejections before publishing his first short story. For him, as well as for many other writers, the path to success was not easy or straightforward. Even those as prolific, talented and overall brilliant as Bradbury will face rejection.
Still, that’s not the most comforting thought. Getting a break seems like an insurmountable problem until you get it. So how does one cope in the meantime? With no encouragement, the financial trouble that comes with being an unpublished writer and rejection letter after rejection letter, it’s difficult to keep going.
Don’t Take it Personally
It’s understandable that you do. After all, writing is necessarily a sincere effort, and you no doubt put a lot of yourself into the work you’re submitting, so it follows logically that your sense of self-worth ends up bruised when you’re rejected.
What you need to understand is that the rejection had nothing to do with you personally. The people reviewing your work are low-level employees in a high-stakes high-competition business where they have to navigate a lot of internal politics. If they approve your work for the next stage of the review process or even publication, it’s their head on the chopping block if it fails. This gets a bit easier if you’re submitting to periodicals, but still stands. Your work is not being judged on its quality. Your work is being judged on how successful by traditional metrics (i.e., money, press mentions, etc.) it can be. If that’s not the metric you judge your own work on (it better not be), there’s no sense in taking rejections personally.
Being Rejected Means You’re Already Ahead
Do you have any earthly idea how many waiters, retail employees and lawyers there are who say “I’d like to write someday”, but never do? Getting to the point where they have work to submit in an insurmountable problem to these people who only wish they “knew where to start” or are every day on the precipice of having an idea that will turn out to be the next Harry Potter.
You’re putting yourself out there, and that means you’re already head and shoulders above the others who only wish they could write professionally. And you were that person once, too — only wishing you could be a writer. You are living the dream.
Don’t Doubt Your Writing
Whatever you do, don’t start doubting yourself now. Before you started getting the rejections, you believed in your work, why do you believe in it any less now?
You wrote something and submitted it — that’s something very earnest. You might have expected to get validation for your effort, so it’s not surprising that you start doubting your writing. Maybe you want to change it a bit. And that’s up to you — if you’re getting rejection letters that specifically say “we’d publish it if you were to change X, Y and Z”, it’s your call to make.
However, it’s an entirely different issue if you’re getting the standard “thanks but no thanks” kind of response. If that’s all you have, and you start analyzing your own work for issues that publishers might have with it, stop right now. For one thing, any change you make won’t make the writing any better. Not to mention that if it does eventually get published, you’ll hate all the changes you ended up making. Don’t doubt your work for a second.
Accept It As Part of the Process
What you have to do is get some perspective. Your current circumstances — getting rejected — are a necessary step in the process. What they call “paying your dues”.
Discounting the obvious cases of nepotism in the literary world, this part is where every (eventually) successful writer is at one point or another. It’s an uncomfortable part of the journey, but it’s also something you must go through. You already know that the only way to get through it is to keep going. So keep going.
“I discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to rely on his own judgment and to say in his heart of hearts, ‘To hell with you.’“
– Saul Bellow