Preparing for Rejection

Katherine Longshore 2 Monday, August 13, 2012
Hello, muses!  I'm covering for Donna today because she's at an all-day retreat for her "other" job.  Look for her post tomorrow!  This week on the blog, we're talking about dealing with rejection. It's a sensitive subject, because none of us want to be rejected. But is there a way to be prepared for it?

The first time I decided to write professionally, I wanted to be a freelance travel writer. I had the travel part down pat - I'd covered six continents and quite a bit of the Pacific Ocean over the course of five years. I kept journals, took notes, scribble concepts and lead lines for articles. I set myself up in an office full of computer, pens and paper, reference materials, and a box of 500 legal envelopes. (Hey, this was the time before e-mail).

I got myself a copy of the Writer's Market. I researched magazines and newspapers that might be interested. I brushed up on how to write a query letter. And then I came across a little article. I can't remember who wrote it, and I can't remember what the topic was. What I do remember is that the author said that anyone wanting to make it in the freelance world would have to be prepared to paper several rooms in her house with rejection letters.

Imagine that. Several rooms.

I wasn't so arrogant that I assumed that wouldn't happen to me. I prepared myself (after all, I did have 500 envelopes). What I wasn't prepared for was how few of my ideas and articles were accepted.  I wrote about all different kinds of topics, from airplane food, to tips on how to pack, to traveling by truck across Africa to finding a ten-day silent Buddhist retreat in Thailand. I wrote well. I knew how to structure an article -  the journalism segment of my major really paid off. My queries were well paced,  carefully aimed and didn't offer too much information. I sent out ten queries a day. A day. I could paper several rooms. I got very few paying gigs - barely enough to cover the cost of postage.

And then I got a “real job” as a travel agent, and spent so much time on the computer at work that I couldn't face it when I got home. It wasn't the rejection that made me quit, it was carpal tunnel syndrome.

When I decided to write a novel, and then to try to publish it, I knew how to face rejection. I also knew that the rejection would hurt more, because a year's worth of life and breath and emotion put into a novel is much more than a half hour it took me to write a magazine query. But when the rejections started rolling in  from agents, I just sent out another query. I was prepared to paper a room (metaphorically speaking of course -  I didn't print any e-mails).

I don't think anyone can truly be prepared, however. Each rejection is like a little death. But what does not kill us only serves to make us stronger, right? And if anything, the pain and confusion and the desire to debate can all be used in our later work.  By looking at it differently, by dusting ourselves off and sending another query, by sitting down to write the slutty next novel, we can learn to deal with it.  I know that everything I'm saying is just a palliative.  And I know that I'm one of the lucky ones, because in the sea of rejections I finally got an acceptance. I'm living proof that it does happen -  if it happened to me, it can happen to you.


I kind of think of rejections like running down through two rows of people who hit you with sticks until you come out the other side.

If you give up, you're stuck in the gauntlet indefinitely.

If you keep going, eventually you get an acceptance.

But there are always more rows of stick-holders waiting.

Love the image of rejection as running the gauntlet, Beth! Perfect.

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