THE "N" Word: Dealing With Rejection
By Scott Nicholson

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Most "writing advice," as dubious as that phrase is, consists of
dribbles and bits of hints, guesswork, and the results of a single
writer's trial and error.

The overall idea is to impart success, whether it comes in the form of
making that first small-press sale or breaking onto the New York Times
bestseller list. In other words, the adviser tells you what to do
right and how to achieve fame, fortune, and the occasional deranged
fan letter.

However, writing careers are more solidly built on a mountain of
negatives rather than positives. No matter where you start, you'll
probably encounter closed doors, ridicule, and rejection along the
way. The trick is to acknowledge rejection as part of the writing game
and to keep it in its proper perspective.

Stephen King was barely out of diapers when he got his first rejection
slips, precociously sending off his initial stories to the top pulp
magazines. Though it took a decade for him to start selling regularly,
he has expressed fond recollection for those early and
sometimes-encouraging rejection letters.

I still have all my rejection slips, but I gave up posting them on the
bulletin board above my computer once they were too thick for a pin. I
haven't counted them lately, but if I added them up, including short
story and article submissions, agent queries, novel submissions, and
screenplay attempts, it would probably be over 700. That's considering
I don't send out all that much stuff cold anymore, and doesn't include
the doubtless numerous attempts my agent has made to sell various sub
rights.

I could look at it in two ways: If I had a perfect batting average and
sold everything on the first try, my postage bill would be lower and
I'd probably be in a higher tax bracket. However, some of the
rejections have undoubtedly saved me from myself.

Looking back on the list of over 100 publishers that received queries
or submissions of my horrible first novel attempt, a good 80 of those
would have probably led to the abrupt end of my career if they had
accepted. Most of them have long since disappeared under the gently
lapping and eternal waves of attrition, sucking my rookie effort into
the ooze along with them. Because I didn't get an easy acceptance, I
had more time to thicken my hide and improve my craft. Novels two and
three went through the same trial by stupidity, with similar results.

Finally, I sold the fourth one, to a decent mid-sized press, mostly
because I was a better writer. Did the several hundred rejections hurt
my career? Not at all, because no one knew about them but me.
Jon F. Merz, author of the Lawson Vampire series and the thriller
Danger: Close, has expanded into different types of media writing, and
is now confident enough in his skills that he doesn't take rejections
too hard.

"With full manuscripts, I hope to get something in the rejection that
I can then take and apply as a lesson for improving the story and my
overall skill level," Merz said. "Starting out, that happened more
than it does now. Now, stuff gets rejected more along the lines of
certain storylines rather than the actual writing."

Dealing with the film industry has taught Merz that a "commercial
idea" varies depending upon the individual making the judgment. "As
with every other aspect of this business, if you think you know
everything, the sad truth is you don't."

I save my rejection slips because I imagine some dramatic future
purpose. I might finally get that breakthrough deal and host a
bonfire, or maybe I'll become pompous and donate them to a university
library's collection. Joe Lansdale gave out one of his old rejection
slips to those who bought a copy of one of his limited edition novels.
But for most people, the slips may have no value at all, especially
when editors often seem as ubiquitous and inexperienced as the writers
they presume to measure.

Dale Bailey, author of House of Bones and The Fallen, said, "I save
everything. I do not take advice from them, however, since it's hard
to glean much wisdom from `This does not meet our present needs.'"

Brian Keene, author of The Rising, City of The Dead, Terminal, and
other books, doesn't get many rejection slips these days, but
submitting was still a learning process. "I probably amassed two or
three dozen rejection letters before I ever received my first
acceptance," Keene said. "I've still got them all, somewhere in my
office. At first, I did what any other newbie author probably does--I
shook my head and blamed the editor and sent the story back out again.
But after about ten of those, I noticed that the editors were all
saying the same thing. After that, I started paying attention to the
rejection letters. I'm glad I did."

I can't say I ever got much good advice in a rejection letter, aside
from a Tor Books assistant editor for my first novel. A rewrite
request is different, but usually if they say "no," they don't want to
bother with it anymore.

If you're getting personal feedback, pay attention, but know the
source and don't overhaul the story on one opinion. If the advice is
good, or repeated often, take it, but don't take a "no" too far. Don't
let it paralyze or discourage you. The hard truth is, the response was
probably sealed the second you licked the envelope flap. You didn't
write a story that made them say "yes."

Once you can do that, even a thousand times "no" means nothing.


(Scott Nicholson is the author of THE FARM, THE MANOR, THE HOME, THE
RED CHURCH, THE HARVEST and the collection THANK YOU FOR THE FLOWERS. His website
http://www.hauntedcomputer.com contains writing articles,
news, and a blog.)

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