Naked rejection: you have to take it on the chin

There are some people who can take rejection, bounce back and prove the rejectors wrong, short-sighted or just plain stupid. I suppose if you want to be some kind of sales person (and I have a high regard for really good sales people) then you just have to able to refuse to take rejection personally. It might depend on what you are trying to sell. If you are attempting to convince someone they should drop everything and attend a time share experience when everyone knows they will have to sit (or in my case snore) through hours of tedious drivel then I guess you really have to see rejection for what it is. Somebody else is just plain wrong.

They say you shouldn’t take rejection personally but for some people that is very difficult. If you are emotionally attached to a piece of creative art then the opinions of other people might affect the way you think about yourself. Of course, sometimes we have to face the fact that what we have produced actually has no artistic value, even though we desperately want to believe it does. That’s when the whole rejection business becomes more complicated. As a writer I have to accept rejection and there are a myriad examples of famous and successful writers who have been rejected hundreds if not thousands of times.

A cheeky experiment by a Jane Austen enthusiast illustrates this. David Lassman, the director of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath decided to find out what sort of reception the writer might get if she approached publishers and agents in the age of Harry Potter and the airport blockbuster. After making only minor changes, he sent off opening chapters and plot synopses to 18 of the UK’s biggest publishers and agents. He was amazed when they all sent the manuscripts back with polite but firm “no-thank-you’s” and almost all failed to spot that he was ripping off one of the world’s most famous literary figures.

According to The Independent, G P Taylor, a Yorkshire vicar, self-published Shadowmancer before getting a deal with Faber. He now commands six-figure advances.

Doris Lessing was rejected by her publisher when she sent in a manuscript under a pseudonym.

Lionel Shriver’s seventh novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin, was so controversial that it was rejected by several agents and publishers. It became a small underground hit before taking off and winning the 2005 Orange Prize.

Stephen King’s first novel was rejected by Doubleday, prompting him to take a teaching job. He began a short story called Carrie but threw the manuscript in the bin. His wife retrieved it. Doubleday bought the hardback rights for $2,400 (1,200), and New American Library paid $400,000 for the paperback rights.

Claire Morrall’s Astonishing Splashes of Colour was shortlisted for the 2003 Booker prize after being rejected by the major publishing houses and taken on by Tindal Street Press. She still has four rejected novels in a cupboard at home.

Jill Paton Walsh was an established author, but publishers were afraid to take on her religious allegory, Knowledge of Angels. She self-published, and it was shortlisted for the Booker prize.

Richard Adams’s Watership Down was rejected by 13 publishers and several agents. It was taken on by Rex Collings, a small publisher who printed 2,500 copies. It has since sold about 15 million copies worldwide.

Alasdair Gray’s Lanark, begun in the 1950s, was rejected by everybody. Gray finally signed up with the Scottish publisher Canongate and is credited with changing the face of Scottish literature.

John Grisham’s first novel, A Time To Kill, was rejected by 16 agents and a dozen publishers before being taken up by the small Wynwood Press. He became one of the best-selling novelists of all time.

William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was first touted as Strangers from Within and rejected by 20 publishers. Faber and Faber saw some potential and asked for substantial revisions before publishing it in 1954. Golding went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead was rejected by six or seven British publishers on grounds of obscenity. Andre Deutsch dared to publish it and has since been named as one of the 100 best novels in the English language by just about everyone.

Marina Lewycka’s father wrote a history of the tractor, which he failed to sell to publishers. She then named her debut novel A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. It was snapped up by Viking for 25,000 and won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comic writing.

And finally… J K Rowling’s first Harry Potter novel was taken on by the prestigious Christopher Little agency but still rejected by a dozen publishers, including Penguin, Transworld and HarperCollins. The small London publishers Bloomsbury eventually took it on, apparently on the advice of the CEO’s eight-year-old daughter.

So, I’m not worried that so far I had four or five rejections for my crime thriller ‘Confess-Confess’ and for my young adult fantasy proposal ‘The Kingdoms Of Time And Space’. They are both still out with many publishers and agents so, am I downhearted? Certainly not because I have absolute faith in the works. Nearly all the rejections have come from editors who call me ‘very talented’. As my agent says. what more do they want?

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9 Responses to Naked rejection: you have to take it on the chin

  1. Wendy says:

    Thanks for a thoughtful post. Rejections are obviously painful but at least they are useful too: at best, the publisher knows they’re not the right fit for you and are letting you keep looking; at worst, they’re telling you to keep working on it.

    The danger if you can’t accept rejection as part of the process is that you can become despondent and give up, or fall victim to the unscrupulous scam-publishers who know you’ll pay to see your stuff in print.

  2. Pingback: One Night Stanzas » Blog Archive » Rejection Therapy

  3. Selina says:

    I love this post. Rejection is just a reality of writers. I will admit the first few for me hurt like hell. But as I sent out more queries and realized that rejection is often nothing to do with the quality of my work, I began getting more comfortable with it.

    We have to try to look at it from a publishers perspective. They have to accommodate their readers and markets because it’s a risk for them to publish a new book. They are the ones who will be out of pocket if it tanks.

    Part of my challenge is that I write gritty, uncomfortable, edgy fiction with a lot of alternative themes. I know I will never be in Oprah’s book club or win a literary prize, but I also know that there is a market for my work and the readers I do have, enjoy it.

    Great post. Thanks for writing this.

  4. Pingback: Re: Query « a romantic enters the world

  5. louise says:

    I think what I find so difficult is that the first agent who kept my novel six months, looking at revisions, said the first draft was a “little overwritten (but just a bit)”. So I redid it, paced it up, took out any extra baggage and sent it off to another who said it was “very overwritten and slow”. It’s so subjective and very difficult to determine what is fair and constructive comment, which can improve the book, and what is just one person’s initial response which may have no merit.
    I’ll keep going because those people who have read my novel love it, and I love it, but it’s disheartening. All the agents I have dealt with say I have potential, or talent or a distinctive voice – which given that I have been a journalist for 20 years feels like damning with faint praise.
    Sigh.

  6. Thanks,

    You just made the rejection I received today not feel so bad xxx

    G

  7. letterstomyformerself says:

    Thankyou so much for this. What a great post and nice to see I’m in good company. Rejection hurts, there is no way of getting around that, but hey, in my experience everything happens at the right time and, with perseverence and a willingness to do what it takes, I’m sure we’ll all get there in the end. If any of you are so inclined, drop by and have a look at some of the sample chapters of my book ‘Letters to My Former Self’….i’d appreciate your thoughts. Just click on the link icon or go to http://letterstomyformerself.wordpress.com. Really, any constructive criticism appreciated.

    J

  8. Chantal says:

    Thank you for this post, it is cheering me up. I just had the fifth rejection for my novel Celestials and it was getting me down a little. This puts things nicely in perspective!!

  9. Pingback: How To Use Rejections Constructively « Inventive Change

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