Wednesday, January 12, 2011

That’s the Best You’ve Got?

So I got my first rejection Tuesday morning.  It came at around midnight Chicago time, for some reason.  Despite knowing the odds and understanding the nature of the business and the overwhelming depth of competition, and knowing that I’d probably be rejected at first, I was still mildly surprised at my reaction to the form rejection email:


Seriously.  I was almost glad I got it; it beats the limbo of not hearing anything, of wondering if you screwed up so royally it was all they could do to hit the delete button before any more damage was done, like Captain Kirk struggling to pull the warp drive lever before the ship explodes  (“Must…delete…query!”).  Or something like that.  Logically, every rejection is a setback, one more magnetically sealed security door keeping me separated from my goals.  Logically, I should try to glean any drops of info from the form rejection that help me understand what went wrong.

But really, I didn’t feel anywhere near the emotional reaction I thought I might.  I didn’t drop to the ground in my Nancy Kerrigan impersonation (Why?!  WWhhhyyy!?).  I’ll probably get two more in the next week or two I can add to the collection, though I’m not dreading it.  Which of course begs Nancy’s question.


Not “Why did I get rejected?” but “Why don’t I seem to care?”  I can’t really answer that.  It’s not because I have time, that’s for sure.  I’m not ancient, but I am a month from forty.  I don’t have the luxury to query a project for two or three years, give up, and move on to the next, and hope I can be published “by the time I’m thirty”.  Thirty was ten years ago.  I don’t want to just publish a book, I want to build a career, a body of work that I can leave behind as marker of my time here. 

Maybe it’s because I’m no stranger to rejection.  Don’t worry, I won’t hop on the psychiatrist’s couch here, but the realty is, I’ve had a lot worse.  Using a 300-word cold-call to convince an overworked agent that my MS out of thousands is the one she should commit her time and reputation to?  We’re set up for failure.  Rejection is expected.  We don’t cry when our lottery ticket’s a bust; we don’t rend our clothing when we’re not the thirtieth caller for concert ticket giveaways.  For every lucky (and deserving) duck who gets his book published, there are probably dozens of great novelists whose work will never be known. 

From a career standpoint, every rejection sucks.  From a personal standpoint, it really doesn’t bother me.  Maybe that’ll change after a hundred rejections, or even ten.  But for now, I’m rolling with it.  This is what we chose to do.  And we chose it because we love to write.

And no one can ever take that from us.


  1. Sorry about the rejection, but it sounds like you're in it to win it. Good luck with the next fistful of queries.

  2. Thanks, Elizabeth. Gotta believe you can do, or there's no point in trying.

  3. Excellent attitude. I too have been rejected, possibly 4 times on my first manuscript and I had exactly the same feeling. JK Rowling is a great example of one who was rejected many times before she was picked up and Stephen King's book 'On Writing' outlines how his rejections started as flat NOs! and graduated to detailed editors notes.

    Keep going... we'll get there.

  4. You got that right! I can't wait to get my first rejection, that means I'm writing and I'm trying. I'm doing what I love. For every no, there's a yes hiding around the corner.

  5. Rock on, Dan!

    I chose to regard my first (and many subsequent!) rejection as a battle scar. Proof that I'm in it for real.

    How many people say "I'll write a novel," but never actually set pen to paper? Then how many people write something, but never submit it anywhere?

    A rejection is proof that elevates you way beyond what most will ever achieve. Cherish it. Then get back out there and kick some query slushpile butt!

  6. Thanks for the support everyone! The only real failure is in not trying. If you give everything you've got, at least you can walk away with no regrets.

  7. Congratulations on your first rejection! It means you're putting yourself out there... and a lot of writers don't even make it that far. So good for you!

    And might I also add that you have a terrific attitude. :)

  8. Seems like you have a healthy attitude about querying. I just want to say you DO have plenty of time. You're only 40 (so I rounded up). Assuming you live to be 80 (and in this day and age that's conservative), you still have FORTY years of writing left! That's a fantastic career. So go get 'em!

  9. Jennifer - Thanks for the support!

    Vicki - You're right, I could still write books when I'm eighty. They'd mostly be about how my soup's too cold and the neighbor kids won't get off my lawn, but still...