Dealing With Rejection

This weekend, I watched a video about getting your head in the right place for sales or personal relations. I watch things like this sometimes as little character studies. For instance, I'm a terrible salesman. I do well socially, but when I try to convert those skills to a business setting, I often break down. So if I want to write a good salesman (or conman), I might watch videos of salesmen and conmen trying to teach people how to do their thing.

Anyway, this person was speaking on rejections as an obstacle for a sales call, and I started thinking about rejection as a fact of life in writing. One thing almost every successful writer has in common is that they've been told they aren't good enough far more often than they've been told that they are good, or great, or even competent. Listen to TV writers speak about pitching, for instance. They are lucky if they make one sale for every fifty rejected pitches.

Many of the most popular authors were thoroughly rejected, and I'm not just talking about the ones who's finished work is populist, but of questionable quality. I'm talking about universally beloved books. Dune. Harry Potter. Brandon Sanderson skipped a big part of that portion of his career by just accepting that he would write crap for his first several books and not submitting them.

I don't suggest you do that.

I suggest you take as role models people like Shannon Hale or Kevin J Anderson. Kevin announces how many times he's been rejected at Writers of the Future and often challenges people to show him more rejections than that. Shannon laminated her early rejections into a giant role that she unfurls down panel rooms and out the door in a spectacular object lesson.

Death by Cliché was rejected something like 28 times before I produced it as a podcast to modest success. Between my Writers of the Future contest win and my next big sale, I must have had 300+ rejections. I've never done the math. Rejections are a part of the business.

So how do you deal with rejection?

I celebrate every rejection. I make a point of it. Every rejection, you see, is a step forward in my career. It's a churn. If I don't get those manuscripts out there, and those rejections back, I don't learn and move forward. I listened to these people early in my career and thought, "What if my number is one thousand, and I won't really know success until I've been rejected one thousand times? I'd better get busy."

Or you could sit there and do nothing. Afraid. Stagnant.

Napoleon ordered trees planted along the major roads in France, his reasoning being he wanted the armies of his empire to march in the shade. When one of his advisors pointed out that it would take twenty years for the trees to grow tall enough to shade an army, Napoleon said something like, "Well then what are you waiting for?" Except, you know, it probably sounded smarter when he said it, because he said it in French.

I was just as afraid of rejection, when I started, as the next person. Each letter devastated me. But instead of getting depressed I forced myself to celebrate each one, in some small way. Literally. How depended on my churn rate. If you're getting three a week, you probably can't afford a fancy dinner each time.

At first, I'll admit, it's lip service, but you know what? After a year or so, the sting had faded a bit. It still hurts to this day, but only when I read the rejection. When I see the rejection has arrived, I often give a little "Whoo hoo!" And after the slap fades, I can celebrate honestly now. Not every time. Sometimes the demons still come calling, but usually. Most of the time.

And now, when my last rejection for a project comes in, I'm already plotting my next big move. I'm always thinking ahead.

It might take twenty years, so you better start now. Ask yourself: What are you waiting for?

Except, you know, ask it in French. You'll sound smarter.