Thursday, August 16, 2018

"Share Your Rejections": From a Writing Perspective

I know I've talked before, here or elsewhere, about rejection as a writer. Specifically, how realistic expectations are, and how we've come to sort of have a skewed view of rejections vs. acceptance from a writing standpoint.

It came to mind as I was skimming the #ShareYourRejections tag — which is equal parts bizarre, sad, and the occasional story of beautiful comeuppance. It's a mix of creators getting their work rejected and people being turned away from jobs for strange and unfair reasons.

So I guess before I start anything else, I'll share my rejection. Or rather, rejections. Because I'm a writer, which means rejections are kind of a part of life.

When I was about twelve or thirteen, I wrote a book. (Don't be impressed, it was like 50 pages long and not great.) This was back when you didn't have things like Submittable and online calls for pitches, so my grandfather and I would buy writers' magazines and look for people who were accepting unsolicited submissions. We printed out my "book," packed it up, and sent it over.

Now, obviously, looking back 25 years I know my grandfather was not expecting my first childish crack at writing to get published. He was teaching me how to send off a manuscript and giving me the experience of actually going through the process. He was probably also setting me up for the experience of rejection (and if for some reason someone out there wanted to pay money for a preteen's super-mini-novella, bonus).

The first rejection letter I ever got still sticks with me. "I think you've misunderstood. We publish books for young adults, not by young adults." Which. Look. Again. S.E. Hinton cases are rare when you're talking going through an actual publisher.

But I remembered that all the way up through high school. You're not a grownup, so you can't do it. It has nothing to do with whether or not you're any good. We aren't even addressing that. It's because you're a kid.

You'd never see that today because Twitter piranhas would pick the company clean in ten seconds flat for discouraging a child. But in retrospect, eh. Maybe they really did think I was that confused.

More recently, I had a story rejected because. Eh. It wasn't quite what they were looking for. That's fair. That's actually the major reason people get rejected. You have a hundred submissions and twelve spots. 88 people have to be told "no," and some of those are going to be really good writers who stuck the landing only slightly less well than another really good writer.

After my rejection, I shopped the story around again after giving it an edit. Another publication took it happily. Nice.

The first publication wrote back, saying they were starting a podcast where they would discuss stories they had rejected and why they rejected them, so people could better understand what they were looking for in submissions. And could they use mine.

Before you say that sounds like a good idea, let me just note that they didn't mean "editors in general," they meant "specifically them." As in, "here's why this story didn't fit this particular publisher's standards."

Before you say that still sounds like a good idea, this was an obscure company with very specific tastes.

If it were about editor picks in general, or keyed to something that could be more widely applied, I'd probably have let them. But as it was very insular, I saw no point. Well, that and I'd sold the story already.

It was nice emailing them saying "Sorry, I can't let you use my story to explain why it wouldn't get accepted because it just got accepted."

Okay, those are mine.

So like. For a writer, rejections suck. They're no fun. You bust your butt with an idea, and it feels very personal. If the story was a passion project, it feels like a personal insult. If you wrote for a specific pitch, now you're stuck with something extremely specific and nowhere to send it.

Learning to live with rejections doesn't mean not being bothered by them, because we are not robots. Rejections suck! I hate them! They aren't fun! Whenever I get one I get all cranky, and then I feel like a big baby. Sometimes I take it way too personally. Sometimes in my own mind I put way too much blame on the publisher.

I can be bothered by getting a rejection while still understanding that it's an inherent part of my job. And that writers far better than I are getting just as many rejections over work far better than mine will ever be.

I kind of laugh at the "So-and-so was rejected twelve times before their book sold." Bully, man. Twelve rejections is a slow month. Again. Not fun. Sucky. But also part of life.

That's why I love the #ShareYourRejections tag right now. For writers, it's helping to hear just how many people go through it just how often. It's a good reminder that being a successful creator does not mean you've reached some magical point where everything you do gets accepted from now on. Not unless you are entirely self-funding and produce your own content from beginning to end.

And it's a reminder that you're not the only one who's had a pretty gross rejection letter. Some very successful people have been told some shitty things about specific projects that are now coming to a bookshelf or theater near you. It doesn't mean everything we create is bound for greatness. (I've got a bottom drawer that will prove otherwise.) But it's a reminder that different perspectives exist. Sometimes the editor is wrong. Sometimes you and the editor are wrong for each other. Sometimes, yeah, you really need to go back to the drawing board.

Keep sharing your stories. Y'all are awesome, and I love seeing how many of you are achieving greatness.

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