About this time of year… with conference several weeks behind us, the press of the holidays approaching, we often find ourselves in a season that, for a lot of us, might not be so fun. Rejection season.
You labored over every word, dotted every i, crossed every t until your eyes took the same position. And then you held your breath, crossed your fingers, and launched your dream on one giant prayer as you pressed SEND.
Well, send isn’t exactly the end of the line, now is it? Sometimes it feels that way when the silence is so deafening you’d crave a rejection if it meant you’d hear something… anything from the great black void of editors and agents who supposedly have your precious pages.
But then, if your lucky (or some might say otherwise) the waiting ends, and the results come in, and… Splat! Someone press the life-assist button because my mutilated heart is now flat-lining on the floor with my crushed dreams.
Oh, we all like to pretend we’ve developed that tough skin, impenetrable by cutting words, but deep down, if your dream is as big as you claim it is, ooo, those words sure do sting!
Now, feedback, if you get it, can be extremely useful. And not just for unseasoned writers. This is why writers enter contests… sure, we’d like to win, but very often the critique you get from the judges is worth the price of that degrading score.
Sometimes it’s not.
Since you’ll never win over everyone—let’s face it, even NYT Bestsellers get bad reviews--how do you know what feedback to take to heart, and what to let roll off?
I wish the answer was simple. Subjectivity is the name of the game. But for me, I think it’s important to establish what your strengths and weaknesses are as a writer. Work with a crit partner, compile those comments from judges, agents, and editors, and give yourself a baseline. You might be a unique word-smith, describing things in such a way that stirs your reader’s senses. You might have a strong command of language and grammar, keeping a tight and organized flow that provides a seamless read. Or perhaps you struggle with the technicalities but you can pen an unstoppable plot that carries the reader away in spite of the less than fancy words.
Then take an honest look at the criticisms, but don’t let them tear you apart. Remember, these are OPINIONS. All stories can be improved with wise direction, but don’t forget that it’s your story, and YOU alone get to tell it. But at the same time, don’t be so hardheaded that you refute any negative feedback. It’s as important to determine your strengths to build confidence, as it is to acknowledge where you have room to grow.
So, since I’m feeling a little bit jolly and hope to keep my spirits up for the holidays, here are my recommendations for weathering REJECTION season:
--Read your rejection letter, perhaps a couple times, and then put it away until tomorrow.
Our emotions get the best of us in the heat of the moment. Our hopes are riding high, that email drops in our inbox, you’re thinking “This could be it!” and instead of a glowing report, they knock you down a few pegs. Take a breather, sometimes what seems so harsh at first glance can be seen with a more critical eye once the smoke clears.
--Make notes on what feedback is positive and what is negative.
Use columns if you have to. Then compare the criticism to what you already know about your abilities as a writer. Was this one agent or editor’s opinion consistent with your general consensus of strengths and weaknesses, or might they be someone who just isn’t the right fit for you? You can’t please everyone, so before you go hacking at those hard fought words, determine what will reinforce and strengthen the story you were given and what simply doesn’t mesh with your style and purpose.
--Get a kick-a crit partner who will shoot it to you straight.
This is a biggie, so be choosy if you can! So much of our time is spent silently in our heads or on paper. This is why I read my stories aloud to myself so I can gain some perspective as to how my thoughts translate into real world dialogue and understanding. But at the same time, you will not be able to see what others see. Before you subject yourself to those big glaring “PASS’s” from that dream publisher, get some more eyes on your work. Listen with a critical ear. Weight those suggestions with as little emotion as possible. And don’t just look for someone who will read through and tell you they loved it. They had to have had a thought to the contrary since they weren’t the one who wrote the book.
My crit partner can attest to the fact that if I’m gonna take the time to critique, I’m gonna give ALL of my insights straight up. Now, that doesn’t just mean tearing the book to shreds or being cruel… though I have been known to wield a deadly weapon… it also means explaining what you liked. What made you laugh, cry, what sucked you in or made you fall in love with a character. Strengths and weaknesses here. We all have them both. ** Critical information for weathering those rejections. **
--Believe in yourself despite the downpour.
Remember all those stories about the bestseller that collected a stack of rejections before making it big? Don’t let the negative voices drown out what you have to say. You’re story is important. It was given to you for a reason. Don’t get so singularly focused on publication that you lose sight of the joy of creating story. What a beautiful gift… whether it’s meant to be shared with the world or not is sort of out of our hands. Do what you can, write the best story possible, be open to improvement, but don’t let the rejection define you.
Chin up! God’s got a plan!
What about you… What have you confirmed are your strengths and weaknesses? And how do you stay afloat when those rejections come back and rock your boat?
Amy Leigh Simpson writes Romantic Suspense that is heavy on the romance, unapologetically honest, laced with sass and humor, and full of the unfathomable Grace of God. She is the completely sleep deprived mama to two little tow-headed mischief makers and wife to her very own swoon-worthy hero. Represented by the oh-so-wise and dashing Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary Inc.