Rejection and the Reality of Being a Writer

You open the email in your inbox with breathless excitement. Then after a few glorious seconds, that all goes away once you read those familiar words: 
“Thank you very much for your submission, but….” 
Another letter from a publisher or literary agent informing you that the manuscript that you spent months writing, re-writing, editing, testing with beta-readers is simply “not right” for their company presently. 
Ah…the tender sting of the politely-worded rejection letter. 
Not too long ago, I responded to a tweet from a writer who was obviously very new to the whole process. He was asking for advice on how to submit manuscripts to literary agents and publishers. Not the most difficult of things to do as a writer. I instructed him on how to search for their websites on Google and check out their submission guidelines. He tweeted me his thanks for the tips and added that it was his fear of rejection that was his biggest problem. 
I didn’t tweet anything back, but I found his admission to be a little bit amusing. If you want to be a writer, it is a very silly thing to be afraid of because when you write, rejection is not a possibility…it’s a certainty. If you can’t handle rejection, then becoming a writer is a very bad career choice. There is no such thing as a writer who has never been rejected. Dr. Seuss’ first book was famously rejected by 27 different publishers before it was accepted. J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter novel was rejected 12 times. An interesting fact, but there are writers who would probably consider those tales to be ones of getting published fairly easily. 
Rejection is rampant when you’re a writer. Whether it’s something big, like from a publisher or agent; all the way down to something small. Such as a profound, heartfelt, insightful tweet that gets zero “likes” on Twitter. You can’t take rejection personally, because it’s not personal. It also doesn’t necessarily mean that what you’ve written is terrible. There are countless reasons why submissions get passed over. 
It’s possible that your submission simply got overshadowed by a multitude of others that are just as good. New writers may not realize just how many of us are out there. When a publisher is open to receiving unsolicited submissions, they are sure to be inundated with manuscripts. With the thousands of manuscripts they receive, they are likely only able to read a small fraction of them. Then of those they read, are likely only willing to actually publish an even smaller fraction. 
The competition is tough. It’s like “American Idol.” How many great singers do you see get sent home just because there was someone else who was slightly greater? It doesn’t mean that they can’t sing, or that they can’t have a career as a singer. It just means that not everyone can be a mega-star. Not every writer can have the success of J.K. Rowling, or Stephen King, but it doesn’t mean that your writing has no value. 
The first thing I ever had published was a picture book. I got it done by going through a hybrid publisher. That’s a publisher who does everything that a mainstream publisher would do, except pay for any of the production costs. I never really had the risk of rejection from them, because I doubt that they ever reject anybody. I didn’t start facing the reality of rejection until the book was finally printed, and I took on the task of trying to sell it to non-family members, or people who don’t know me personally. 
It was a relatively simple process to set up book signing events at my local chain bookstores, in that all it required was to phone the store managers and ask for an available date. The hard part was sitting in the children’s book section surrounded by titles based on licensed creative properties like Disney, Minions, LEGO, DC/Marvel, Pokemon and countless other established children’s series while trying to convince complete strangers that my previously unknown book was the wiser purchase. 
Needless to say, I became acquainted with rejection very quickly. 
I’ve never had a book signing where I’ve sold no books, but I’ve never sold very many. I think the best sales day I’ve ever had was 8 or 9 books sold. There have also been a couple of times when I’ve sold only one. 
I did what I could to draw in the customers. I would set up a nice display with a big poster. I also had fridge magnets made up with my book characters on them, and gave them away to kids along with lollipops. I got to be very good at getting people’s attention, but holding it after they received the free stuff was more difficult. We’d all love it if our book signings could have even a fraction of the success signings by big-name authors, or celebrities selling their autobiographies could have, but that doesn’t happen overnight. 
Most times, it seemed like the parents were more interested in the book than their child was. Most buyers were adults who were gift shopping for someone who wasn’t with them. Usually for a niece/nephew’s birthday, or a friend’s baby shower. I guess an interesting book autographed by the author can seem like a really great purchase…when they are buying for somebody else. Very rarely was it the child who asked the parents to buy them the book, rather than just taking a free lollipop and heading to the “Captain Underpants/Dogman” section. 
To be honest, this type of very personal rejection is about as bad as it can get for a writer. To be fair, most people are generally very polite about it. They’ll pick up the book from the stack on the table, flip through it, say something nice about it before speaking the words “I’ll think about it” then putting it back on the table and walking off. Others may give false hope and walk away with the book, acting like they actually will buy it, only to leave it at the sales counter later after they are done in the store. A couple of them actually did that after I had already autographed it for them! A rejection email from a random agent or publisher seems rather benign by comparison. 
Rejection is tough, but the times you gain acceptance are amazing. It’s an incredible feeling when someone genuinely tells you that they like what you’ve created. Something of value has been added to the world because of you. And while these moments of acceptance are a hundred times rarer than those moments of rejection, they make you feel a hundred times better. 
So in the end, a writer shouldn’t fear rejection, they should accept it as an inevitability and use it as a learning experience. Rejection doesn’t mean your work will never be accepted. Always keep in mind that being a writer is a dream job. If it was easy, everyone would do it.

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