Rejection is part of the game of life. But what does it actually mean about you, personally?
As part of my new 2020 initiative, I decided (among other things) that I was going to be braver, that I was going to put myself and my work out there a little more. I've always wanted to be a published author (hooray for Amazon!), which I managed, but I wanted to reach out and try it a different way. I decided I need to query more literary agents.
Now, for those of you who don't know, when you write a fabulous new novel, authors these days have two options: they can publish it themselves, using Amazon or WattPad or any number of platforms, or they can do it the old fashioned way. As I've always had a not-so-secret hankering to be published by HarperCollins or Penguin, I decided to pursue this route, which entails writing a synopsis of your book, a query letter for said book, and then sending query letters and samples to literary agents who, if they like it, will sign you on as a client and then shop your manuscript around to publishers like Penguin and HarperCollins.
I've been down the query road many, many times before. My twenties is a decade papered over with rejection letters. It hurt back then, when I was a tenderfoot, but now, I decided, I was tough. I've gotten bad reviews. I've gotten rejected, both to my face and online. I can take whatever is dished out. Accordingly, I lovingly crafted my letter, my synopsis, and triple-check my sample and then sent it out to a number of agents. I got back the usual auto-letters, thanking me for my submission and politely informing me that I can expect to hear back from them in 2-8 weeks. "Fine," I thought, "I can wait."
Not an hour later, the first rejection letter came in. One particular agent couldn't wait to clear my query out of her inbox. As it turns out, I was wrong - you're never too tough for rejection to sting a little.
To be absolutely fair, the pre-filled rejection letter was polite and even encouraging. My story was not to the taste of this particular agent, but fret not, for surely the perfect agent must be out there! I was not inclined to take this part of the letter to heart. All I could see was the sentiment "Thanks but move along."
Turns out, this reaction of mine is not uncommon. Being cautious creatures, who long ago were at the bottom of the land-based food chain, we tend to focus on the dangers and the pains rather than the bright side of any situation. But just because we initially do, it doesn't follow that we have to stay there.
In real terms, however, this one pre-filled rejection letter does absolutely nothing (except sound the death knell on a potential business relationship). The literary agent was quite correct in saying that just because my story didn't appeal to her, it doesn't mean that it doesn't appeal to anyone. But let's say the worst happens. Let's say no one wants to publish it. What then?
I realized very quickly that, if every literary agency in New York City rejects my manuscript, if Penguin or HarperCollins never learn of my existence, if every troll on Amazon puts my work at the top of their target list, none of that really changes anything. I'll still write. I'll still pepper my friends with questions like, "Would this work?" "What do you think of this plot twist?" I'll still type until my eyes are so tired until they feel like they are going to fall out. I'll still day dream and compose and make up brand new worlds in the privacy of my own head. It's what I do. It's what I've always done. Rejections sting, 'tis true, but they don't actually change much. I'm still me. I still like what I do and what I write, and lucky for me, I can still do it, regardless. There is great power in realizing where the real power lies.
So if you like what you're doing, keep on keeping on. Keep working it, keep growing, keep learning, keep trying, and remember: no amount of rejections can stop you from doing what you love. It may lead you to a new or different way of expressing your passion (you may not work with Leonardo DiCaprio, but you can still be in some pretty cool indie films), but in this day and age especially, there a more avenues for creative expression than ever before. So stick with it and keep going.
So I guess I better keep on keeping on. And while I'm at it, I'll treat myself to a chocolate bar tonight. Because rejection, even if it doesn't mean all that much in practical terms, it still has a sting.