For a long time, I’ve been writing. Who hasn’t? I’ve been more serious about it at some times than others. But not in many long years have I stopped writing. A good bit of what I’ve written hasn’t been worth much but the practice. I’ve embraced that. Some small part, though, has been worth a little more–worthy of readers, you might say. That process of getting a story to a reader we call, of course, publishing.
The writing, whether it comes out great or just turns out to be an exercise–that’s the easy part. It has an inherent reward. I find satisfaction in it. It’s why I write. The trouble comes when you find you’ve written something worth publishing. It’s then, as I say, that the trouble begins.
If you haven’t had the delight, let me tell you what awaits you when you pull the trigger, bite the bullet, (insert your own cliche), and send your story to some editor for consideration. What awaits you is what I’ll call a mild form of agony.
It starts with the waiting. Before you sent the manuscript, it was what it was: something you’d written and had reason to feel proud of. Now, when it’s in the cogs of a machine beyond your control or influence, it becomes not a thing but a potential. A potential is, by its very nature, a cause of stress. This potential is, of course, bipolar: it’s going to feel really good or it’s going to feel really bad. You have no way of knowing which, and you have nothing to do but wait. This is the first stage of mild agony.
If, like me, you’ve got more than one wagon in the barn, you can take some solace in having others that are, or are becoming, accomplishments (I mean, of course, written; done).
Next comes the rejection. Some editors are better (i.e. kinder) at this than others, but you must accept this fact–which no doubt deters many writers from getting over the first hurdle–that your manuscript is most likely going to be rejected. More than once.
Depending on how new you are to this feeling, this kind of agony may well slip into a form worse than mild. But for most people who write, it is at least a little bit of agony. After all, you wouldn’t have sent the thing if you didn’t feel it deserved some readers (i.e. was worthy of publication). But now the door has closed, and no one but you and your circle of readers and an editor, sometimes kind enough to attach a name to the rejection, has read it.
Again, if you’ve never had this pleasure, you probably don’t know that what you get from a rejection letter is usually NOTHING. You get a “not right for us at this time,” but almost never any reason why. It matters not at all that editors are busy and can’t provide that kind feedback–we know all this, but it makes no difference to the fact that the NO is both final and incomprehensible. You could have perhaps been close or you could have been way off, or you could have come right after another story like yours or you could have written such an awful story that no one in their right mind would want to read it. You get nothing useful or constructive from this letter. It is impossible to interpret (which for a writer is kind of like an icing of agony on the already painful cake).
3. The Stages of Grief
After rejection come the normal stages of grief. Grief is, of course, a mild form of agony. First, Denial: This was the best thing ever written in the history of fiction, and those idiots were too blind to see it. An hour later, or maybe a day later, Anger: Either at yourself for being such a stupid hack, or at the stupid publishing industry, or the idiot junior editor, or … Then comes Bargaining: Maybe some parts were pretty good and others weren’t; maybe I’m not terrible but I have some talent; maybe editors aren’t entirely soulless they just come across that way in the rejection letters. After a bit of this (already I’ve had quite enough just writing that sentence), comes Depression. Enough said. I suck; I’ll never get published; etc, etc. And then, finally, Acceptance. You say, well, who knows why, but it didn’t go through, and now I’ve just got to send it somewhere else.
Restart mild agony from step one.
Repeat as often as necessary.
Until you either get the damned thing published or you give up on it and move on to something else.
This is, then, what awaits when you pull that trigger and decide that your work is worth a larger readership than you and your little circle. No wonder some of us don’t like to get out of the boat. No wonder writers are a sensitive breed. It’s not, I would contend, that the writing is hard, or that writing does some strange thing to you, as a writer. It’s this peculiar process, a slow kind of mild agony for which I know no cure.
The above was written in the wake of a particularly painful rejection, where I’d sent a manuscript off, was told it was close and I could revise it, and then, after the revision, was sent a no-explanations rejection. (All this took over 6 months. The publication in question subsequently came out with several emails to their potential contributors, suggesting that they were both hard-up for cash and swamped with submissions. Rejected writer, take your pick.)
So I let this piece sit in my draft cue for a couple of months. But now in the cooler aftermath, I’m thinking it may be encouraging to some writers, in the way that support groups are encouraging to fellow sufferers. I’ve had, so far, only modest success, but I have had it: actual, live editors have accepted my manuscripts for publications, including just this year. But on those days when I get things back with that uncommunicative “no,” I also think to myself, “Why did I just put myself through that?”
So, in the spirit of telling the whole story: I do it because I believe in my stories, and I want them to make it into the hands of readers who will see their value, as I see value in the stories of others. Like every writer, I have this optimistic feeling that some of the things I’ve written are really good. Good and valuable. Even eye-opening, authentic, meaningful. I do it because I see others doing it and realize, I can do that. I do it because I have never heard of a writer (well, except maybe Nicholas Sparks) who didn’t experience wagonloads of rejection in the midst of their success. And I do it because I know that unless you try, and brave failure, you cannot ever succeed.
What about you? Why do you–and sometimes, don’t you–send stories to living, breathing editors? I mean, the stories you feel are worthy of readers, not the “oh well” drafts. And do you experience the mild agony of which I speak, or are you such a plucky sort that it doesn’t nick you at all, even just a little bit?
- Manuscript Peddling: Only Slighlty Preferable to Being Waterboarded (liviaellis.wordpress.com)
- Rejection: Greatest Hits (pikeknight.wordpress.com)
- My Second Repost: My Rejection Collection (mikeallegra.com)
- “How to Avoid the Rejection Blues” – by Stefan Vucak (authorshelpingauthors.wordpress.com)