On Rejection

Asked to moderate a panel at the 2018 James River Writers conference, I called dibs on the topic nearest to my heart: “Bouncing Back From Rejection.”

This would be a great panel, I knew, welcomed and well-attended. Already I could think of a dozen questions I wanted to ask the speakers. My mind whirred… and then choked.

I had always imagined speaking about this topic from the other side, you see. I would succeed first, then reflect on the long years of rejection. Having crossed the dreary prairie of perseverance, I would deliver wisdom from the majestic book-contract butte. (In my mind, publishing is Nebraska.)

“See!” I would say. “I made it up here! So can you!”

But I’m still wading through the prairie. The grass is tall here; it’s hard to see. There are flies that bite.

So what could I say to other writers about bouncing back from rejection, when I did not yet have a tidy success story of my own?

Here it is: Learn to love it.

Love rejection.

I used to think these words were opposites. I actually have, deep in the file cabinet, two adjacent folders labeled LOVE and REJECTION, the buoyancy of the former intended to cancel out the lead weight of the latter. There is, for example, a picture of my pet chicken Loretta, drawn by my husband, which overpowers all the form rejections I received for my first novel.

But I don’t use those folders anymore.

I have learned that I can love rejection. You can too.

Rejection means you’re trying.

Rejection means you haven’t given up.

Rejection sometimes means you’re almost there.

Rejection can even beget love. I love St. Martin’s editor Alexandra Sehulster, who sent a rejection that actually included the words “fantastic” and “stunning,” a rejection that was so encouraging that I reread it sometimes when I need a boost.

I love my brilliant agent, Rosie Jonker, who has fielded many months of rejections — my rejections — and showed me how to use them as signposts as I struggled with revisions.

And I love my friends, writers and readers alike, who have been walking with me through this prairie for a decade now.
Last week, I was playing query-letter ping pong with a writing friend, batting drafts back and forth.

“Thanks for your company on my Road of Frustration,” my friend wrote.
“I know that road,” I replied. “There’s actually a park bench with my name engraved on it, right over there.”

You’re welcome to sit awhile. When you’re ready, get up and keep going.