The path to success is littered with rejections – the secret is to use them to your advantage. In this week's column, our deputy editor Luiza Sauma explains how...
For writers, rejection is a way of life.
A publisher passed on George Orwell’s Animal Farm, saying it was “impossible to sell animal stories in the USA”; Sylvia Plath was told,“There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice”; better yet, William Faulkner’s Sanctuary was dismissed with a curt “Good God, I can’t publish this!”
Few of us are in the league of Orwell et al, but nobody – be they a reporter, poet or a Booker-winning novelist – gets anywhere in the world of letters unless they’ve got a big, painful pile of rejections behind them.
I could say something brutal, like “Get used to it!” or I could say something fluffy, like “the pain lessens with each rejection” – but the former is overly harsh, while the latter is a big fat lie. The fact is: you will never get used to being rejected, but you can start dealing with it better.
Rejection makes you a better person and a better writer. The type of editor (literary or journalistic) who blindly accepts all of your ideas is a soft incompetent who is doing both you and themselves a disservice.
Does this kind of editor even exist? I’ve yet to meet one, but judging from some of affronted rejectees I’ve come across in my career, a small minority seem to believe (or desire) that such a person exists – a sort of benevolent editing Santa, who exists solely to massage your ego and give gifts of hollow praise.
The best editor is the one who tells you exactly what he/she thinks, thus preparing you for the real world. Too much praise is just as bad as too much negative criticism; moreover, for writers, feedback is the gift of the gods – painful, but ultimately enriching.
To illustrate, here’s a short history of my most memorable rejections, and how I got better at receiving them:
Age 20: submit appalling piece to well-known magazine. Receive detailed and friendly email explaining why it’s crap. Immediately decide that the editor is a clueless bastard.
Age 22: submit mediocre piece to national newspaper, while at work experience. The arts editor takes the time to read it, comes over to my desk and rips it apart, politely but firmly.
He says, “This is what people write like when they’re pretending to be good writers.” (This – utterly true – statement echoes through my head for all eternity.) I hold onto the desk to stop my head from spinning. Then I write another piece, which is published in the paper.
Age 27: pitch half-arsed idea to women’s magazine. The editor emails back and says it’s “a bit vague”. I am disappointed, but in total agreement.
Age 28: submit averagely OK short story to literary publication. Receive the first genuinely bitchy rejection of my entire life. I recover within two minutes.
What I’m trying to demonstrate is that youthful arrogance (ie insecurity in disguise) in the face of rejection will, over the years, give way to a zen-like acceptance.
But a rude editor is a rude editor. In these cases, always remember: it’s not you, it’s them.
How do you cope with rejection? Leave a comment below!
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Image courtesy of nicoleleec on Flickr.