Dealing with Rejection: Angela Ackerman Guest Blog Post

Angela is one of my Calgary SCBWI friends. She writes on the Dark and Mysterious side of Chapter Books, Middle Grade and YA. Her work is represented by fabulous Jill Corcoran at the Herman Agency. And she's all about zombies! She co-blogs at a blog called the The Bookshelf Muse - Writing Tools and Musings about reading, writing and other randomness. The blog features the popular thesaurus series where she and her co-blogger provide a detailed thesaurus on just about everything. It's a great tool for writers.  

Today she's not writing about zombies or thesaurus entries, she's writing about rejection (ouch) and how to see the positive in the negative. Something every writer struggles with. 

Take it away Angela! 

I’ll never make it. I should just quit. I am a total loser. Bleak words, aren't they? Still, a familiar echo to anyone receiving the soul-consuming rejection letter. A perfectly good day can go sour at seeing, 'Dear Author'. Our breath cuts off, our chest tightens, the shoulders sag and despair slams us down. 

We ask ourselves why we put ourselves through this, why we can't just catch a break. Unfortunately being rejected (or e-jected) is just another part of the writing gig, like metaphors and modifiers. Rejection is out there, it will come for us at some point. Some letters hurt, others can devastate. All of them challenge our self belief. Staying positive in the face of rejection is tough. Each time our confidence is scraped, the rejection a message that our writing isn't good enough to take on, which we translate into meaning WE are not good enough. Sometimes moving past rejection is as simple as firing out a few more queries, tightening a synopsis or revising that first chapter for the 900th time. 

Other times, rejection can cause our foundation of determination and self-belief to quake. We feel like we're letting everyone around us down, including ourselves. Maybe we should face facts and pack it in. During these black moments, it's important to find a way to shift our thoughts out of the self-critical mode. This is difficult, but it can be done if we look at the rejection in a different light: as opportunity. I know what you’re thinking—rejections are closed doors. What opportunity could their possibly be from a ‘sorry, not for me’ type rejection? There are always things to learn, even from form rejections to queries. The trick is shifting the way you think from the negative to the positive. 
When a rejection pulls you down, consider these questions: 

What does the agent/editor need? What is my responsibility to them? What can I learn from this? How can I see this rejection differently? 

Who drank the other half?
Let's look at each one of these for a sec. 

What does the agent/editor need? The sarcastic answer to this is, ‘Not my work, obviously.’ But if you can set aside the hurt and place yourself in their shoes, there's insight to be had on their side of the desk. Pretend you are the agent or editor opening this query—what do they need from you? What will make them successful? They need to see a compelling query, well written with a character and voice that calls to them. They want to find something different, something that peaks their interest & makes it a no-brainer to scribble a note telling you to please forward the book. This person wants to sign great writers, and they'd like nothing better for this query to make them tingle in anticipation! They need a strong story and polished writing. They want to see a query from someone who has targeted them specifically because of who they represent/publish. 

What is my responsibility to them? It is the writer’s responsibility to write a strong, inviting query that offers enough information to make the agent/editor NEED to know what happens next--not too little, not too much. Give them the shape of it, a strong sense of the character, voice and style. Your best work shows them you are dedicated to this story being published. You do this by slaving over the query, polishing it until it shines as brightly as your belief in the book itself. You also show that you chose them specifically because they are a great fit, not that you spammed them with your query, hoping for the best. 

What can I learn from this? Turn an honest eye to the query. Evaluate whether you satisfied the editor/agent's needs and fulfilled your responsibilities. Is there something you can do better, or did this query simply hit your 'good enough' meter at the time you sent it out? Have you done all the research on the market that you can, do you feel a niggle of guilt over a corner you may have cut somewhere? Did you edit enough, critique enough, tweak enough? Have you done all you can to make this query a success, as well as any materials you sent with it (synopsis, bio, first chapter, etc?) 

How can I see this rejection differently? Of all the questions above, this one is the most important

When depression hits over a rejection, asking yourself this will lead you to a balanced perspective again. Because a rejection is in essence a negative, this question challenges you to find the positive. Think of the positive things this rejection symbolizes for you. It shows you had the courage to send out your work. It proves you believed in your story enough to get it published. This leads you to think about how far your writing has come, how your talent has grown, how many stories you’ve written or how long you’ve worked to perfect this one. Seeing the rejection differently sets you on a path that allows you to re-appreciate your own growth as a writer and your determination to reach your publication goal. How many writers have you helped along the way? How many writers believe in you, cheer you on and know you can succeed? 

Focus on your strengths and your accomplishments. Finding the positive in any circumstance can revive confidence, lighten mood and bolster determination. Too, your body responds to positive thinking, helping to slough off despair and doubt. Breathing is easier, tension leaks from the muscles. Posture straightens as thoughts return to moving forward, and what can be done to ensure success. Suddenly the rejection is put back into perspective--one person's opinion, not a career-ender. 

 Try this for yourself the next time a rejection hits you hard--it really does work!


Great post. Thanks, Angela. I don't think there can ever be too many articles about how to deal with rejection. It's such an ugly monkey that must be potty trained. Remembering our strengths is the key.
Angela Ackerman said…
Thanks, Jocosa! I agree, the ups and downs of writing crop up at different times for all of us, and while we might think we're hardened to those R's, some hit harder than others.

All we can do is try and remember why we're doing this, and how much we've grown. Positive thinking is a powerful tool, no matter what industry we're in. :)

Matthew MacNish said…
It's really hard to get perspective on. I try to think of rejection as a badge of courage. Because, after all, the only way to not EVER get rejected, is to NEVER send your work out.

So if I'm getting rejected, it means I believe in my work enough to send it out, and really, when you think about it, that's saying a lot.