Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Rejection, Where is Thy Sting?

Current Reading: Nothing, actually. I notice I had a reading break last year around the same time. I wonder why?

Inspirational Quote: "I wrote for twelve years and collected 250 rejection slips before getting any fiction published, so I guess outside reinforcement isn't all that important to me." -- Lisa Alther

Yes, I've noticed I haven't finished up the series on procrastination. Don't look so surprised.

So let's discuss rejection.

It's a fact of life. Written work is statistically more likely to be rejected than accepted. It should be a default expectation, and anything other than rejection should come as a wonderful surprise, like finding a bloom in winter.

But the other fact of life is rejection STINGS. Good word, "stings." Very appropriate. It calls up a bee-sting: that quick, sharp jab that becomes a hot throb that seems to go on forever before finally fading. Someone has decided my work, an expression of my mind and my soul, of the things that make me unique, is "not quite right" for them. That hurts. I think my work is good, but I'm never sure if I'm being objective, or if my personal perspective has warped my judgement completely out of reliability. Maybe I'm deluding myself. Maybe I've come up against an objective measure and been found wanting. My story could be flawed beyond correction, maybe because of my flaws. Maybe I should find something else to do with my time.

Writers looking for publication have to walk a very thin psychological line. We have to accept that our work will be rejected repeatedly while simultaneously holding on to the hope that THIS TIME will be different. Although this may be easy for the incipient schizophrenics among us, those of us with lesser illnesses have a difficult time.

I've been out of the commercial writing market for a decade. Never out of the writing, of course, just out of the competitive selling arena. Things have changed. I have changed. In the midst of my efforts on the Magnus Somnium, I thought I'd write a few short stories. I decided to try and sell them as a reminder or a test or just a way to re-familiarize myself with the realities of a writing life. Well, it's worked. I'm familiar with rejection again. Ow.

One big improvement since my last attempt is the creation of the web and e-mail. I used to have to buy a copy of Writer's Market and spend a day reading every word of the science-fiction/fantasy section looking for prospects. Then I'd have to write away for guidelines and sample copies. After a few weeks, I'd get them back, or maybe a note indicating they were closed to submissions, or possibly a "No longer publishing" card. I'd study the material I got back, reading the stories, looking at the advertising, thinking about the audience for my work and trying to figure out whether they were the magazine's target readership. Only then would I send my story off. Six weeks to twelve months would pass before my SASE would come back to me. Most of the time with a slip of paper that had the word "No" written on it in one-hundred words intended to soften the blow.

Now most markets have their guidelines up on the web. They have tables of contents and advertising, sample-copy order forms and editorial comments on their web pages. Research time is cut from weeks to hours or days. A lot of magazines accept electronic submissions as well, and their response times have shrunk accordingly. I can now receive rejections in a matter of days instead of weeks, weeks instead of months. And then there's the savings in stamps and international reply coupons,..

So now I'm rejected faster. To that, I give a qualified, "Yay!"

The rejections themselves haven't changed much. Mostly they're just form letters. That's alright. "No" is succinct and to the point. Once in a while there's a bit of encouragement, or a sentence of critique, which is nice because it means someone's taking me seriously and believes my work (maybe not this work, but another one) has potential.

I have a proven method for dealing with rejection:

  • I curse a couple of times. The world has yet again refused to acknowledge my overwhelming genius, and it's frustrating.

  • I mope for a while, during which I may curse some more because a good curse needs mileage to really sharpen its impact.

  • I do my job. My job is writing and selling stories. If A isn't buying, then it's time to pitch to B. The story goes out to the next market and I brace myself for the likely results of that submission.

  • I write another story and then I send that out to face rejections too.

Sometimes I wonder why I bother. It's easier to just write, and enjoy my writing, and talk about it with friends who aren't too critical, and just feel like I'm an undiscovered genius. It's a lot harder to put my work out there, to accept the certainty of rejection and cling to the slim hope of acceptance. So why? I leave you with the words of John F. Kennedy (who was talking about a moon landing, but the principle is the same):

"We choose to write and submit and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win."


slcard said...

This is why I do it:

"But there are men for whom the unattainable has a special attraction. Usually they are not experts: their ambitions and fantasies are strong enough to brush aside the doubts which more cautious men might have. Determination and faith are their strongest weapons. At best such men are regarded as eccentric; at worst, mad...."

Walt Unsworth

Also, in honour of de-lurking day: Hello...again. I promise to sign up as a follower to make it all offical as soon as I have a chance to recreate my profile.

However, I must warn you, as a follower I may start harassing you for the novel.

Ulysses said...

Do you really consider writing and publishing to be unobtainable? I can see the "ambitions and fantasies strong enough to brush aside the doubts," thing, but not the "unobtainable" bit. Nor do I consider those who dream of publication to be mad... Occasionally irrational, maybe, but not mad.

Great quote, though.

Y'know, until Nathan mentioned it, I didn't even know there was such a thing as "De-Lurking Day." Who organizes these things?

Harass away. I can't guarantee it'll do you any good. Or me either, for that matter.

slcard said...

Unattainable, Ulysses: never to arrive at or reach a goal. Rather than unobtainable: never to acquire, secure or have granted one. To me the first suggests a struggle not present in the latter.

I do not, however, believe writing and publishing are unobtainable or unattainable: I write for hours every day and have so for years; I live with one who is published and earns pocket money from his words. Goals, however, are as unique as individuals even if it appears we are all reaching for the same fruit, or all climbing the same mountain.

I do not procrastinate: I do. But it is not easy. It is hard. Somedays it feels impossibly hard, but that only means I try harder, I try impossibly hard. I celebrate rejections as another chance to get it right (not that they don't sting, mind you). Some mornings I think I must be mad to be dragging myself out of bed, but this is my Everest, my inexplicable passion, and I will continue to climb, and I will get to the top or I will die on its slopes.

Now stop researching and writing about procrastination, and get to work on your novel. (Sorry, but I did warn you.)

Ulysses said...

"Unobtainable"/"Unattainable." Wonder how I missed that?

That you do not procrastinate makes you one of the happy. I aspire to your ranks.

And yes, I am getting back to work.

slcard said...

There, now I'm all official: I'm a follower. Remember when journals, diaries, or logs were things to be kept hidden away and secret, only to be published posthumously if you were in some way famous? I'm still trying to get over this idea.

You may notice I've stuck up a picture of a bonfire. It's my bonfire (from Hallowe'en actually, when we enjoyed the Blood Widow Spiders you inspired). Now I've also stolen your idea of using a photo of something that belongs to me to represent me, and I really do enjoy a bonfire, despite the fact that vegan marshmallows haven't been available for ages and veggie dogs tend to fall off the stick.

One more thing before I leave following alone. I think followers have a right to know your favourite Muppet. So? I would tell you mine, but I can't decide between Oscar the Grouch, Animal, or the two old men.

Now I must go, because you have a book to write. Glad you're back to work.