When I started writing, long ago now, one of the first pieces of advice given to me was never to take rejection personally.
It wasn’t bad advice, but of course, I took it personally. I mean, how could I not? Someone had turned down a piece that I had worked on. It was me. Someone rejected me.
Of course, no editor meant it personally, not then, and as far as I am aware, not ever. But you can take it personally, anyway. I mostly think it’s fine to do so, as long as you don’t do the next part, which is to write back to the person who rejected you and tell them how they were wrong.
I’ve never done it. In truth, it was a difficult thing to do, back in the early days, because everything came by post. I started my career by trying to sell short fiction. For a long time, that was all by mail. An early book submission was likewise. So, when rejection came, it came to me on a small, red scooter, delivered by an employee of Australian Post. I could mostly tell if I had sold it by the weight of the envelope, but occasionally, an editor would send back the first few pages, giving the illusion of a contract. Either way, I opened the envelope hopeful. More often than not, it contained either a form rejection or a personalised one.
I was always secretly impressed by the people who wrote back to editors in those days. It was so much effort, I thought. You wrote the letter. Then put it in en envelope. Then posted it. It was dedication, really.
At any rate, we can all agree that that kind of behaviour isn’t very helpful for a new author (or an established one). But the truth is, that kind of rejection is much easier to deal with than the rejection that comes later.
Rejection comes in many forms once you’re established (or establishing, since you’ve perched yourself on an edge somewhere). It is not just an editor that does not like your book, or your short fiction, or your essay. It can be that they do like it. It can be the reader who doesn’t like it, as well.
At the point, it becomes very nuanced, and very complicated.
Five, maybe six years ago, I had a very rough patch in what I call this career. I couldn’t sell much. I felt a bit burnt out. But I was at a point where I was turning a corner. I was awaiting a contract for a novel… and, since this is 2015, well past that time, it is easy to say that it didn’t happen. The corner was not turned. To keep with the bad metaphor, the road remained straight. And long. It had a while to go before it turned.
Along the way, people I knew, fellow writers, some who are my friends, and some who aren’t, were signing deals, and were publishing books while I was not. At times, it was hard, but there wasn’t anything unusual about it. None of them were more or less deserving of their deals than I was. Everyone walks their own bad metaphor – every author has their own trials and successes – and they take what they take from it, really. But human emotions are their own thing, and when you’re feeling like you just got a handful of shit for all your work, you can feel a whole lot of things, like envy, jealously, resentment, and so on and so forth.
I had not, until then, really understood how much of that went into the processing of rejection. When you submit something, you think you are worthy of what accolades will come, and undeserving of any criticism, but you rarely stop to think about the judgement that you are passing on the work that is taken in your place. The same goes for the audience who reads your work. You rarely stop to think about how much of it is all filtered through your ego and your sense of self-belief. And, yeah, sometimes you are very much justified by what you think – but that doesn’t change that where you coming from isn’t such a great place.
The experience of rejection, from editor to reader, is, I find, a navigation of all the ugly emotions that rise up in you. It is rare as an author that you will be at peace with it from the start, especially as you form yourself as an artist, as you find who you are. It is a lot easier when you know who you are, and what you are doing, to shrug it off, to know that it doesn’t matter, and that there are others out there who will like what you do. It is a place that, by and large, I find myself these days – and have, I guess, from before I found my current ‘success’, mostly because I did not like the kind of author I was becoming five or so years ago, and took a step back to make sure I became the author I wanted to be.
I don’t speak of work, there, incidentally. I have, by and large, always been confident about the work I do. You can pass whatever judgement you wish on that.
No, rather, I speak of the things that are outside the work of the author, and speak to who the author is, as a person, and how s/he navigates who they are in relation to their work. That is what is at the end of being able to navigate rejection well, I think.
Have a good day, all.