Stages of Rejection

As I once again approach submission time, I am bracing myself for failure. Not in a woe-is-me, lack of confidence way, rather from a position of realism based on past experience. I thought I’d pull out all the rejection letters I’ve saved from the last four years and take a browse – but I couldn’t. Some are still too painful. So why keep them all, like some tatty love-letters from a failed relationship? I’m not sure. In a way it’s because they validate the time I’ve spent writing novels. They are tangible proof that I have tried, I have worked hard – that I have put myself ‘out there’.

Surely I should have developed a rhino’s skin after all this time? Surely the rejection still doesn’t hurt? For the most part, I can logically deal with disappointment - tell myself that a standard rejection isn’t necessarily a condemnation of my work. And I appreciate the odd personal comment, I grasp at the occasional letter which is worded with encouragement. But now and again I get caught out. And the obsessive, emotional process is usually as follows and I wonder if it’s the same for you?

1) Paranoia – why has the agent not replied yet? My submission must have got lost in the post. Perhaps in my covering letter I didn’t grovel enough – or maybe I sounded arrogant. The agent must be on holiday or she’s ill or at some book fair abroad. Perhaps it was a mistake calling the hero and heroine Gordon and Mandy because if she’s Conservative it won’t make it off her slushpile.

2) Assumption – it’s definitely been rejected. I’ve googled the agent’s name and when she takes someone on she always rings them after two days. I’ve already been waiting two weeks. It’s a done deal. Onto the next sub.

3) Tears – the letter slipped through the post box today. Despite number 2) it is still a shock. Tears and chocolate. More tears, more chocolate. My little boy asks why my eyes are runny. My claws-of-steel cat turns away in disgust.

4) Self-pity – I’m never going to make it as a writer. What’s the point of trying any more? All the hard work I’ve put in has been for nothing. More chocolate. More writerly sighs. Woe is me.

5) Anger – What does she mean, my characters seem flat? That my plot’s going nowhere? My husband disagrees, as does Auntie Nell. Who does she think she is? What does she know?

6) Defiance – I’ll show her and write something even better then I’ll post a copy to her when I get a deal. She’ll be cursing the day she let me go. Ha! And double Ha!

7) Acceptance and Resolve – she was right, I can see that now, the characters are flat and the plot is going nowhere. It’s time to tuck this book firmly under my bed. It’s time to move on and work on my writing skills. It’s time to improve.

8) Gratitude – she did me a favour, if it wasn’t for that rejection letter I’d still be working on that project. My new one is genuinely so much better. I’ll sub it to her when the time comes.

9) Amnesia – I can’t wait to send her my new project. This submission process is so exciting! Printing out my chapters, rushing to the post box every morning… Perhaps this book will be the one!


Caroline Green said...

Oh lordy, does this ever ring true!!! I thought I was making progress recently when I went through the stages in painful but double quick time...literally an afternoon. I usually feel numb, then really upset, then furious, then defiant, then I accept it. I can identify with this so much, so thanks for a great post Sam!

Laurie Paulsen said...

i'm all trembly reading this, looking forward to getting those rejection slips that prove i'm one of the hard-working writing community. :D
so far, i've only submitted short stories directly to publications and while those rejections sting, i don't think they're nearly as wrenching as those i'll receive for my novels. can't wait! heh.
thanks for the entry!

Helen P said...

Oh - what about the rejection you've just recieved for a story you'd forgotten you'd even submitted it was so long ago and now are spending too much time wondering if you did or didn't send two on the same day? (NB to self: Must start keeping a log of submissions.)

Susie Nott-Bower said...

A very honest and moving post, Sam. And isn't it hard when you can see all these stages and it doesn't get any easier! I do hope that this time round there will be some good news. Your hard work and attitude deserve it!

Anonymous said...

This is all so, so, true! I defy any writer to say they haven't been through most of these stages, if not all - some of us more often than others, unfortunately! The one good thing about having lots of rejections over the course of a long writing career is that you do (honestly!) eventually go through the stages more quickly. And you're so right - despite everything, the whole process is still exciting, every time, no matter how often you get knocked back. If you didn't find it exciting, you'd have given up.

Tamsyn Murray said...

Blimey, I thought it was just me with the anger stage! I've had to implement a rule which says I'm not allowed to email my agent following a publisher rejection until the next day, by which time I've hopefully acquired some objectivity.

I especially liked the amnesia stage. I get that a lot :-)

Geraldine Ryan said...

Sam, someone said: "if you want cuddles, get puppies." They may not have been referring to the world of writing, but they may well have been!

Administrator said...

Glad this resonated with you all folks, and that i am not the only one!

Caroline, i couldn't cope with it all in one afternoon!

Good luck with it all, Laurie. At least you have had some experience of getting those wee slips, your skin will be a little toughened already...

Oh Helen, i wouldn't like one out of the blue, ouch! I've usually been waiting on tenterhooks for mine!

Thanks, Susie. Hmm, hope i don't bombard all you virtual friends with too many self-piteous emails when the time comes:)

That's a good point, Write Woman, and i guess when it stops being exciting, even in the face of rejection, then that is the time people give up.

LOL, Tam - yeah, the amnesia proves very useful!

Note to self, Geri - must get puppies;)

Thanks all.


E.G. said...

I'm so glad you ended on amnesia! I'm sure that's how I kept going; I'm not so hot on rewriting the novel but I'm highly skilled at rewriting the past :)

Administrator said...

It's a bit like childbirth i suppose, Emily - you forget the pain!


Anonymous said...

Sharing the pain sometimes helps. When I was hawking my last novel around agents and publishers I decided to put their rejection letters on my website. That site's now gone, but I'm taking a different approach now. While I am once more abasing myself before publishers (with a new novel) I decided to self-publish the old one. Why not? I doesn't do anyone any harm. And I'm blogging about the process here:

Administrator said...

Hmm, i agree Steve,sharing the pain definitely helps. Thank goodness for virtual internet writing pals who understand!

Anonymous said...

Lovely post, Sam. Good luck with the next round of submissions!

Administrator said...

Thanks, Caro:)


Gillian McDade said...

The point that must go through everyone's mind is - why is it taking so long? I think it's precisely just that - the MS is waiting to be read in a pile somewhere.
Thanks for sharing Sam :)