Sh!t I Learned Today: Publishing Rejection
Okay, this really isn’t something I learned. I mean, we all learn lessons about rejection throughout life. It seems that rejection is the one lesson we get to keep on learning, no matter how old we are.
And if you’re a writer, rejection is probably your best friend. Hopefully not. But, you know, let’s be realistic.
So we all deal with it. Whether it’s bad reviews or low sales, which is a sort of rejection, or just agents or publishers passing on our work.
I recently submitted one of my books to a digital first imprint of a large publisher. I randomly did it one day without putting much thought into my query. Which is bad. Obviously don’t do that. But I had put a lot of thought into WHY I wanted to submit to a publisher. So my reasons were good and solid and when you start submitting make sure that you actually want to work with a publisher, but my execution was pretty sloppy.
However, a while later (months), an editor from the imprint emailed me and said she loved the book. She wanted to present it to their acquisitions team.
I nearly died from shock.
In the email, she also wanted a series outline, which I promptly sent back to her. After that came conversations about Book 2 and Book 3. They wanted to turn my first book into a series, which I really dug, because that likely meant a multiple book contract. So I went to work outlining Books 2 and 3.
And worked. And worked. And worked.
Like hours of work. Hours that I wasn’t spending writing a new book to publish on my own.
After nearly 50 emails exchanged with this editor, it was finally time for the acquisitions meeting where she would present my book.
I wasn’t nervous.
I mean, why should I be, right? She clearly wanted my book. We really got along well. And I’d spent so long, and put so much effort into these outlines. Why would they want all this stuff for the next books if they weren’t planning on taking the first book? So I wasn’t nervous.
I should have been.
The book wasn’t picked up.
The rejection shocked me. I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t have that wall up between me and my work and the outside world. So when the email came in saying they didn’t want my book, I just stared at the screen, my mind blank.
After all that, they didn’t want it.
Okay, now quick explanation. I wasn’t bitter about all the effort I put into doing the outlines that they asked for. The effort or time I spent on them. Because even just doing those outlines and bouncing ideas back and forth with the editor, I learned a lot. So that was totally not wasted effort. Those hours I spent on those outlines weren’t in vain.
I’ll probably never write those books, so the outlines themselves technically are wasted.
But not the work itself because I got to work with a cool editor who taught me how to ask the tough questions when outlining.
So as I stared at that rejection email, it wasn’t bitterness I felt. Or anger.
I honestly didn’t know how I should feel. They didn’t want me, I thought. I told myself the words over and over as I tried to figure out why I couldn’t move from my chair or delete the email.
Maybe the feeling I felt was something like being on a journey. You’re driving along, content and happy. You think you’re on the right road. Everything looks familiar. You feel good about it. But then you suddenly realize that somewhere along the way, you took a fork in the road. And you didn’t even notice. I was on an entirely different road than I expected.
It’s a jolt of awareness. An “oh shit” moment. Like, well, how did I get here?
Since January of 2014, I’ve kept my head down and wrote. Five books. Six novellas. Right? Hang on. Let me count. Yeah that’s right. Soon to be six books. So all that time I spent writing and self publishing and promoting and networking, I kept my head down. I was on this road, this journey. But when I looked up, I’d forgotten where I was.
This feeling of being lost didn’t come just from the rejection email. It’s come from an entire year (2015) of wondering if self publishing was right for me. (More on this to come. I plan on doing an entire post dedicated to things you discover about SP as you SP). So I won’t get into this path of self-discovery I’ve been on.
I’ll just focus on that rejection letter.
There was a voice in my head that whispered, “This is why you self publish. This is why you never let anyone tell you your book isn’t good enough.” But I knew that was a bit cynical. After all, I’d gone into the submission process knowing that I wanted to work with a publishing company.
But because I am an indie author at heart and because the only judge of my books has ever been me and my readers, I keep a pretty solid wall between me and rejection. I like it that way. It’s safe that way.
But I let my guard down this time. I expected too much. I wasn’t ready for the “no.”
So when I got it, oh man, it stung.
Like a good little author solider, the mantra of “next book, next book” immediately started up in my head. I focused on editing my upcoming release and outlining my next project. I ignored my feelings about rejection. What else was I supposed to do? Cry over it? No one cares, Meg, I told myself. No one cares that one publisher didn’t take that book.
I forged on. I put my head down and ignored those nasty feelings of inadequacy and bitterness and anger. Because even though I hadn’t felt them at first, oh man, they came on strong a few days later.
I finished editing TKS (my next release) and started on the next project. And when I looked up again, there was no jolt.
No “oh shit, where am I?” moment.
I was on the road I’d been on when I started. No forks. No wrenches in my plans. Just me and my books and my readers.
So now, I understand what I felt staring at that blank screen. I understand what this rejection felt like. I discovered what this should mean to me. And it has nothing to do with being angry or getting a chip on my shoulder or anything like that.
It’s just a realization that this will happen. That I am just one of countless other authors trying to scramble up to the top of the Success Mountain.
A rejection from an agent or publisher isn’t meant to be a bump in the road. It’s meant to be part of the road. It is the road itself. Because to travel down it inherently means rejection. Rejection should flash by the window as you dash madly down the road. Wave to it if you want, but don’t look away from the road. Because the only bumps we jolt across are the ones we make ourselves experience. The ones that are manifested by what we allow ourselves to feel.
So I kept moving. You should keep moving if you’ve recently been rejected. If you haven’t experienced it yet, look forward to it. Wave to it as it passes you by, because it will come and it will go. And the only thing that matters it that you’re still going down the road. Pedal to the metal.