“The difference between the amateur writer and the professional writer is that the professional didn’t quit.”–Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, rejected 26 times before becoming one of the most inspirational books of all time
Every creative type must handle their worst, most intimate fear when they share their work with others: rejection. It doesn’t matter if you are a writer, filmmaker, musician, actor, painter, or live performance artist, someday you will face rejection by someone, somewhere, and that person may be a friend, colleague, critic, agent or even the viewing public. Some of the rejections will be polite, if not gracious, while others will be cruel and soul-shattering.
THE HARD FACTS ABOUT REJECTION
Everyone gets rejected. And more often than not, everyone gets rejected multiple times. It doesn’t matter what form the rejection is in, everyone will get rejected and how you handle that rejection is the true test of your character. Oprah Winfrey was fired from her job as a TV anchor and deemed “unfit for television” before going on to become one of the most prolific personalities in television history.
Rejection is a matter of taste. One rejection doesn’t mean anything. 50 rejections doesn’t mean anything, for that matter. One of the reason rejection rates are so high is because you have to catch the right organization with the right piece that is the right fit for the right person’s taste at the right time on the right day. Just because one person rejects your work doesn’t mean that another one will. Sometimes the very same person who rejected your work initially will accept it later on down the road. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to revise or polish your work between pink slips, but it does mean that you shouldn’t feel disheartened over a handful of rejection letters
Rejection will make you a better at your craft. Just because someone rejects your work doesn’t he mean (s)he was right, but it doesn’t necessarily mean (s)he was wrong, either. Listen to what critics say about your work. You don’t have to take every piece of advice thrown your way but use their feedback to polish and improve your work instead of letting nasty comments degrade your self-confidence.
It isn’t personal. Rejection can be difficult to handle because in rejecting your blood-sweat-and-tears creative endeavor, you probably feel that YOU are being rejected as a person. After all, your creative work is a part of you. Even if you know on an intellectual level that the rejection isn’t personal, in many ways it’s as personal as it gets, but the person rejecting you probably doesn’t see it that way. To them it’s just business.
You will get used to it. Rejection hurts the most at the beginning. The more rejection letters you get the less they will affect you. After fifty or a hundred rejections or so a pink slip won’t mean much at all. You are building up a tolerance and becoming a professional.
Rejection is a professional matter. Rejection is part of what makes an individual a professional in his or her field. Rejection weeds out those who are unable to compete at the professional level or maintain persistence in their field when setbacks (like pink slips) arise. When you are starting out in your career consider submitting your work to smaller, newer places with smaller pools of work (and talent) to draw from. If you start by submitting to the top places, it will take much longer to receive an acceptance, if ever. The longer you work in your field the better you will become at identifying places that have the right fit for your kind of pieces, eliminating your number of rejections. In the film industry, less than 1% of screenplays are ever sold or produced, meaning movie scripts are ultimately rejected over 99% of the time.
HOW TO USE REJECTION TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
Adopt, adapt, improve. Refine your proposal/query letter between rejections. A poorly crafted or unenthusiastic pitch will scuttle your piece no matter how good it is. Consider hiring a specialist or an editor to help you write a killer intro to your work.
Be patient. Set aside your story for awhile and work on something else so you can return to it with fresh eyes further down the road. Imagine if Herman Melville got fed up with publishers and threw his manuscript into the waste bin—no one would have ever heard of Moby Dick.
Don’t get discouraged. Use rejection as fuel to motivate you to try again and try harder. Joseph Heller named his book Catch-22 because it took 22 attempts to get his book published.
Be persistent. Persist long enough and you will succeed. What do George Orwell, Louisa May Alcott and Richard Adams have in common? They believed in themselves and never gave up on their craft. As a result, millions of people can enjoy classics like Animal Farm, Little Women, and Watership Down, respectively.
REJECTION STATISTICS FROM THE PUBLISHING WORLD
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling: rejected 12 times, sold 400+ million copies, led to four consecutive records for fastest-selling books in history, and made Rowling one of the most famous authors in the world and one of the richest people on the planet.
Carrie by Stephen King: rejected 38 times and was even tossed in the garbage by the author at one point, sold 100+ million copies in its first year alone and made Stephen King a household name.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett: despite 60 rejections, once published Stockett’s book spent over 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.
Agatha Christie: started out with 500 rejections in 4 years, now only outsold by William Shakespeare with $2+ billion in book sales and one of the most famous mystery writers of all time.
Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield & Mark Victor Hansen: 140 rejections, sold over 80 million copies and now nothing short of ubiquitous, spawning numerous spin-offs.
Dune by Frank Herbert: rejected 23 times, now the best-selling sci-fi novel of all time, spawning dozens of sequels, four movies, and several video games.
The Thomas Berryman Number by James Patterson: after 31 consecutive rejections, the book went on to win the Edgar award for Best Novel while the author followed up by scoring 19 consecutive #1 hits on the New York Times bestseller list with sales in excess of $220 million.
For more statistics on rejected manuscripts see:
Daily Writing Tips: “Famous Books Rejected Multiple Times”
Green Leaf Books: “How Many Rejection Letters is Too Many?”
James Hughes: “Literary Rejections”