A couple weeks ago I was on Facebook and Twitter grousing about a bad week. I was dealing with a massive headache that actually caused my right eye to turn blood red, and on top of it I got four rejections in a row: one for an elusive Bookbub ad, two from agents, and one from writing job for which I’d written an audition sample. Needless to say, I was down in the dumps.
I got lots of sympathy from my sweet FB friends, and then I got one reply on Twitter that went, “I like to think that every time I get a rejection someone else is getting an acceptance.” That made me pause and reflect. I like the positive spin. Taking something that makes me feel bad but hoping that it’s something good for someone else. This is the way I want to be as a person. Truly. Not being sarcastic at all.
Now, I know in reality there are far more rejections than acceptances in this business. It’s not realistic to think that every rejection out there for creative types leads to someone else getting their shot. However, someone eventually gets through that golden door of success – and yay for them. I mean it. That’s awesome.
I’m very used to the word “no”. I’ve been a performer since I was a kid and a writer since my early twenties. Clearly, I’m not in the movies or on TV, so you see how that Hollywood stint went for me. I could wallpaper my house with rejections from publishers. Even here in Nashville I occasionally lose out on roles in community theater shows. There are just a lot of talented people who like doing fun things like acting, singing, dancing, and writing. I know so many extremely talented not-famous people.
The theme of my blog is revision, so I’ve decided to revise my position on rejection. Where has rejection taken me? Well, if I’d gotten the movie or TV roles I’d auditioned for back in my twenties, I might still be in Los Angeles. I wouldn’t have met my husband. I wouldn’t have been there for my step-daughters when they needed me. I wouldn’t have become part of the theater community here. I wouldn’t have become part of SCBWI Midsouth. I might not have ever published a book.
If I’d gotten one of my earlier writing works picked up by an agent or major publisher, would it have been any good? Would it have been panned by critics or failed to sell? Would I still be writing today? I’ve looked back at some of my earlier work. It wasn’t great. Time, education, and hard work have made my writing stronger over the years. I hesitate to write this, but I confess that the quality of writing in the last book of my Juniper Sawfeather Trilogy, Echo of the Cliffs (written in 2016) is much stronger than the first book, Cry of the Sea (written and rewritten between 2000-2013).
It does hurt to open that email from an agent and read that my work “is not what we’re looking for at this time.” Weirdly, it’s harder when the agent writes nice things. My latest rejection read, “This is definitely the kind of project I'm interested in.” Yay? No. It was followed with “I’m just not passionate about this manuscript, and I have to be passionate about what I take on.”
How do I deal with that? My book is good, it’s “right”, but it doesn’t rise to the top. I’ve come across that “passionate” word from agents, publishers (and directors) many times. It doesn’t make me feel like I’ve come so close, my book has to be good! It makes me feel like Are you serious, right now? What do you want from me?
I take a deep breath. I consider my options. Do I keep trying for the agent? Do I look to smaller publishers that don’t require agents? Do I remember that it’s 2017, and I can publish it myself if I really want to? What is my goal? I’ll take a moment to look through the book again while wishing one of these nay-sayers could at least tell me what was keeping the book from making them passionate about it. Maybe I’ll get a beta reader or two to help me out.
Then I’ll remind myself that I have been accepted by publishers, received reviews that made me smile, and even gotten a couple awards. I’ve got two stories in a brand new book, Winter Wonder, that came out this month. I’ve got another new young adult novel coming out in 2018. I work with a publisher that is very enthusiastic about my writing. I’m directing a sweet Christmas play with my husband at a local theater full of enthusiastic children and adults just starting out on this acting adventure. My daughters are in a good place – busy with their own shows, jobs, and school. My family is close by. The babies I teach at my day job are fat and happy.
And maybe somewhere out there in the world an author with a great children’s book for boys full of adventure and fantasy got picked up by an agent and is going to make it big. Maybe someday when my book Dragon Surf finally gets its chance, I’ll point to that other book and say, “If you liked -----, you’ll like this too!”
I wish all you writers a happy holiday season and great success! Face down those rejections and write on! I don’t know what the ending to this career looks like, but it’s not over yet.
Please leave a comment if you’d like, scroll through my prior posts, or enjoy my website. It’s full of excerpts from all my published books.
D. G. Driver
Author of Young Adult books Cry of the Sea and Passing Notes.