Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Building Your Writer Callouses - Part II

In the previous post we talked about the a need to develop a thick skin if you're going to be successful in publishing.  I noted that for me the process required two things: Developing the humility to unpack criticism and the ability to separate rejection from failure.

If you missed the post on unpacking criticism, you can read it here

But, what about all that rejection?  Feedback and criticism aside, some friends and family aren't interested in my book or doubt the fact I can be a professional writer at all.  Dozens of agents rejected my queries.  Then, after I was signed, a handful of editors rejected my agent's submission - some after reading the manuscript in full.

Does that mean I'll never get published?

No, far from it.  But it does mean I have more work to do to make sure I don't fail.  It's been two years so far, and likely to be as long again before I see my book on the shelf (and that's an optimistic timeframe).  The ability to separate rejection from failure is crucial if I'm going to keep going. 

To whit:

Rejection:  To rebuff; something rejected as imperfect, unsatisfactory, or useless; a refusal to accept an offer.

Failure: Non-performance of something due, required, or expected; a person or thing that proves unsuccessful; lack of success.

Hopefully you can see the difference. 

I believe (and yes, this is just my opinion), that as writers we need to actively train ourselves to differentiate between rejection and failure.  That is not to say we never fail, only that every rejection is not a failure.

How do I tell the difference? 

Rejection means that someone doesn't like it, can't use it, doesn't want to spend money on it, doesn't appreciate it, etc, etc, etc.  Response: Make changes if applicable, but move on.  Keep going.  Find another agent, editor, reader.

Rejection is something that occurs in every writer's life.  Even the most successful books on the planet have been rejected by agents, editors and readers.  It is literally inescapable.  If you cannot handle rejection, you are in the wrong profession.

Failure, on the other hand, means the thing you have created has not served its purpose.  It is not successful and never will be.  Response: Trash the failed project, learn, learn, learn, then try again.

If every rejection meant your project had failed, pretty much every single writer out there would not be published.  If, after the first few letters came back saying 'thanks, but no thanks', they pulled the project, the number of books on the shelf would be even fewer.

Rejection doesn't mean that book can't or won't be published.  It just means that particular person doesn't buy into what you're doing. 

That could come for any number of reasons: it may be that the agent or editor doesn't like your genre, or the approach you've taken to the genre.  It might be that they already have a similar project.  Maybe they read something else recently that had them more excited, so yours hasn't passed the comparison test.  Or maybe they just didn't like it. 

Or it could be because your project is 'failing'

Failure means either the writing or the premise isn't strong enough.  It cannot and will not be published. 

Since most of those rejections probably won't come back with a detailed analysis of what, exactly, the agent (or editor) didn't like, how do you know whether your project is being rejected, or completely failing?

You test the market.

1.  You stop giving your manuscript to friends and family who love you and will likely support you even if they see flaws (or, as one writer told me, nit-pick for flaws out of envy). 

2.  You find a writers group that involves people who know the craft of writing and who will read the whole book

3.  Maybe you enter your first page up on Page-to-Fame on the website and let other writers / readers tell you if your work is engaging.  If it's successful, you'll get to round two (first five pages) or round three (first fifty pages).

4.  You could attend a writer's conference and speak to an agent or editor directly (not to mention get involved in workshops or lectures that could add to your knowledge of the craft).

5.  If you can afford it, you find a freelance editor to take a look.

6.  Insert a multitude of other options here.

In short, you hunt down people with a professional knowledge of writing, do whatever it takes to get your manuscript in front of them, invite brutally honest opinion, then listen to what they have to say.

At which point you put into practice the humility you've adopted to unpack criticism so it makes you a better writer who, when their rejections are done, has a traditionally published book in their hands.

Check out the quote underneath the title of this blog.  The only way to be absolutely certain your project is being rejected, rather than failing, is to just keep going. 

Then on one glorious day, it will be a success.


WHAT ABOUT YOU?  Have you developed a radar for rejection vs. failure?  What helps you get through the let-down of a rejection?


  1. More great advice! You can't control the people accepting your writing, you can only control how good the material you present them is. And when you give up - that's always failure.

  2. One absolutely has to earn one's callouses before that glorious day arrives! The writer's blood sweat and tears (and callouses)makes that finished published book so much sweeter.
    Judy (South Africa)

  3. In my mind, at first, they're the same. But once I give it some time, I shake off rejection and move forward. Great post!

  4. Really nice post. We can't internalize, just move forward and work to change the MS for the better.

  5. I've just discovered your blog, and I love it! Getting published is a lifelong dream for me, and I like the thought that I have to work hard for it rather than having everything fall into place too easily. So rejections, to me, are just a step towards the finish line.

    As for failure... yes, a never-to-be-published manuscript hasn't served its purpose. But doesn't a manuscript serve another purpose? A writer learns so much about plotting and setting and characterisation etc with every manuscript, so technically, no manuscript can be a failure, because it served a purpose: to teach the writer.

  6. When I think of rejection I think of the Disney movie "Meet the Robinsons!" Keep moving forward! Yes, I agree that failure and rejection are two separate things. Great post!

    I left you a blogger award if you want it :)

  7. When you think about it rejection is such an important building block in life. When it comes to publications though, I'm not sure it's a great barometer. Just because there are not enough slots for everyone to fit in doesn't mean your a bad writer. Sure it could very well mean polish your work, learn your craft, but it could also mean the trough is pretty full. I think there are a lot of great writers like yourself out there. =)

  8. I think it's human nature to focus on the negative that a rejection means: this publisher/agent didn't accept it. What's harder is focusing on the positive: now you're free to submit it elsewhere with hopefully a different result. There are, literally hundreds of agents and publishers out there. Sometimes, in the end, today's rejection is tomorrow's acceptance. So I don't dwell, I usually turn right back around and submit somewhere else that very same day; makes me feel a smidge better!!!