January 20, 2015

by Jenna Cosgrove

The more you write, and the more you submit, the more you’re likely to face rejection. This happens to almost every writer (maybe there are some who haven’t ever been rejected, but I haven’t met them!) some time in their careers.

Consider this rejection letter received by one aspiring fantasy writer:

‘We are not normally this frank, but when someone has no idea of plot construction, characterisation, or narrative drive we feel it is appropriate to advise you to rethink your career plans. You mention in your resume that you are working as a lorry driver’s mate for Pepsi Cola. This is an occupation not without merit. Good luck with it’.

Ouch, right?

What’s left to do after receiving a letter like that? Do you pack it all in, and accept that you’ll be a lorry driver’s mate forever?

The writer who received that letter took a different route. Instead of wallowing in the rejection, David Gemmell used it as motivation and went on to become one of the world’s most beloved fantasy authors.

Here’s the truth about gatekeepers and rejection that is hard to accept: if they reject you, it’s not because they’re stupid and can’t see how brilliant you clearly are. There’s always a reason. Sure, it might just not be up their alley. But if you’re receiving consistent rejections, the answer always lies in your work.

The only thing there is to do when this happens is to step up your game. So you thought you had a good novel, or a good article, or a good non-fiction proposal. That’s fine—but good isn’t good enough. Publishing of any kind is ridiculously competitive and to get your foot in the door you need to be great, not good.

Right now you’re probably thinking of some of the awful books you’ve found on the shelves of bookstores. Yes, there is some very poorly-written stuff getting published all the time, but there’s a catch: it appeals to an audience. A publisher won’t take on a book if they don’t think they can sell it—that’s the whole point of their business. The Twilights and the c-list celebrity memoirs that we all have a good time dismissing were picked up because publishers knew there was a market for them. So ask yourself: does your work equal dollar signs?

If you’re being rejected right now, maybe your writing isn’t where it needs to be. Maybe no one thinks there’s a market for your book. Maybe there’s almost zero chance of your article getting more than 10 hits on a website.

The first step to dealing with rejection is this: be honest with yourself. Be brutally, brutally honest. There’s a problem. And it’s only when you identify it that you can smash through it and take your writing to a whole new level.

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