Let’s talk about rejection.
I’m not a big fan of it; I doubt anyone is. But rejection is a fundamental part of the publishing process. Not all editors and presses are suited for all material, and some works could use a little more shine before they are sent out into the big bad world.
The beauty of rejection in the publishing industry is that it can happen at every stage of the process. This means that everyone has the opportunity to become adept at being rejected.
Our great tragedy starts at the beginning of that path to expertise.
Step 1: The Writing Group – Someone in your writing group is going to hate your writing. Hate is probably a harsh term. Let me rephrase. Someone in your writing group may not be interested in your genre or your writing style. Maybe they never like any writing but their own. Maybe they have despised fantasy ever since their older brother threw their toy dragon in the toilet. If you are lucky, they will channel this emotion into constructive criticism and point out places where you could improve your work. If you are very unlucky, they will either tell you that your writing just isn’t for them, or they will pick it apart.
Step 2: The Editor – This rogue often reappears at various points, so he can be considered part of step 2, step 3.5, and step 4.5. Regardless of where he appears, have no doubt that he is going to take the reddest of all pens to your work. Repeatedly. Cut it to pieces. Tell you to get rid of characters. Poke at plot points. Ask if particular phrasings are part of your style or something…unfortunate and unplanned. But after many run-ins and crossed swords, someday some editor may shake a dusty head, look at you, and say, “Yes, this manuscript is ready,” but only after he and his brethren have rejected you a dozen times first.
Step 3: The Agent – Finding an agent is like internet dating. There seems to be an infinite sea of options, but the ones you like aren’t interested in calling you back. A few may message you then disappear. You may even have the chance to meet one or two of them in person. But with differing degrees of kindness and malice, the vast majority of agents will put your manuscript aside and decide against representing you as an author. You can survive this. They used terrible mirror selfies as their profile pictures anyway.
Step 4: The Publisher – I’ve mentioned publisher slush piles before, and with the amount of query letters and book proposals a publisher sees, it makes sense that most publishers have neither the time nor resources to publish most authors. You can add another rejection or twenty to your count here.
Step 5: The Reviewer – Reviewers are an interesting bunch. Some have a rule that they won’t review a book that is truly terrible, and others are quite happy to write honest reviews about books that they could not stand. This type of rejection will have a particular sting because many readers idolize reviewers and use them to see what they should read. As a reader yourself, you may even look up to someone who rejects you, so the heartbreak will feel extra personal.
Step 6: The Reader – Grabbing your readers by the shoulders, shaking them, and asking, “Why won’t you love me?” is probably not the best response to their criticisms. Fight the impulse to do it. A reader can reject a book for 1001 reasons that range from the book’s hideous cover, the fact that the author shares a name with a high school nemesis, an oddly written plot summary, to the book’s placement in a physical or electronic bookstore. At this stage, readers will reject your book time and time again and be noticeable only in their absence.
The above steps are, admittedly, a very tongue-in-cheek description of the rejections writers face on the road to publishing. Despite the attempt at humor, it is true that rejection is simply part of the process, and it is helpful for writers to not take these dismissals personally and instead use the series of rebuffs to improve.
Easier said than done, I know, but if it ever becomes too much, remember that you are not alone in your rejections. If you ever have a moment of despair and need a bit of laugh about the oddity of putting words to paper, there is always Two Medieval Monks Invent Writing from The Toast. I highly recommend it.