Sunday, February 7, 2010

Rejections: The Greatest All Time Motivational Tool?

I asked a couple of people recently what I should write my next blog about and they said rejections as a motivational tool. OK, and in what way are rejections motivating? They make you want to get out there and try again. They make you feel like a real writer because a “No” response is still better than no response. Yeah, these things are true . . . but rejections are still kind of discouraging, aren’t they?

The topic has been stewing in my mind since then, and I’ve been trying to decide what rejections are better at: encouraging you to try, try again, or making you feel like you’ve been fooling yourself all along. All writers, if they’re going to stick with it long enough to actually reach any kind of steady stream of acceptances, have to develop a thick skin about rejections. We all get rejected. All of us. A lot. Your favorite writer has been rejected. Your favorite writer, come to think of it, probably still has people who don’t like his or her work. This is a subjective business.

My current agent search has shed a bit of light on the topic of rejections for me. So far I’ve sent out about twenty five queries. I’ve gotten a few form rejections, about an equal number of personal rejections, about an equal number of no response (yet?)s, and two requests for partials, which eventually ended in rejections. Of the personal rejections and the rejections from the agents who requested partials, the response has remained pretty similar across the board: This is interesting. This is well written. This sort of book is very hard to sell (or sometimes, “But I’m just not the right agent for this book”).

While I would be lying if I said these rejections haven’t been discouraging, there has been a very motivating element to them. For one thing, I’ve been encouraged by the fact that I’ve gotten a fair amount of personal responses, and those responses have been very positive about my writing. The writing itself.

The topic of this particular novel, on the other hand . . . well I knew this book might be hard to market. It’s literary fiction, which is difficult to sell to begin with, and it’s about a somewhat controversial issue. It’s frustrating to have worked on a book for three years and finally realize that it might be inherently unmarketable, but these responses really have pushed me to get back to work, serious work, on my next novel.

I wrote the first draft of my next novel in a feverish writing spree when I was inbetween drafts of my thesis (the novel I’m currently shopping around). I got back to work on it after I decided that my thesis was ready to start sending to agents, but I wasn’t able to quite get back into the groove of it. I rewrote the first twenty five pages or so, then spent a bunch of time mapping out the events that would follow them, then decided that this first twenty five pages that I had just rewritten wouldn’t work and so went back to page one and started over . . .

But these recent agent rejections have made me realize two linked things. One is that my first novel (this was actually not the first novel I ever wrote, by the way, but it’s the first one I actually thought might be publishable) will probably not get published, at least, not as my first novel. That is to say that I think it’s a good book and I still believe that it’s publishable, but I don’t think that anybody’s going to take a chance on it when I don’t have any other book credits to my name. This sort of book, as some of these agents have told me, is, by its very nature, simply hard to sell. If I had a stronger track record I think I’d stand a better chance, but as of right now, I don’t think it’s going to happen.

The other realization that came quickly on that one’s heels was that I needed to get back to work on that next novel. I needed to take it seriously and actually get that next draft written. My thesis probably won’t be “the one,” which means if I want to make it, I need to get another one finished, and perhaps another after that. I need to keep trudging onward and writing new and better books if I ever expect one of them to make it past the slushpile, past the partial request, past the full manuscript request, and finally – finally! – sold to a publishing house.


PancakePhilosopher said...

I think you're probably right. I also think that rejections are good motivators, especially "positive" rejections..."This is good but not right for us"...since those ones are hopeful at least.

And just think...some of the greatest literary minds had a devil of a time getting their masterworks published. Tolkien, Steinbeck, Dickens, etc., but they stuck to their guns and eventually they found success. Kinda funny how the books we now see as amazing canonical classics got the most rejections in the days of their beginning.

Ashley Cowger said...

That's true. It's encouraging to remember that even the greats have received more than their fill of rejections.