Monday, February 25, 2008

Don't take it personally!

It hurts when someone tells you something you didn't want to hear. No matter how nicely they put the information it still stings to be on the receiving end of a rejection. The problem is that writers must deal with rejection regularly. A writer's life involves more rejections than acceptances.

In "Don't Take it Personally! The Art of Dealing with Rejection" author Elayne Savage explores how subtle and not so subtle rejection messages from childhood can follow us into adulthood. These lingering feelings of rejection can make even the smallest slight balloon out of proportion.

For example: you get back a letter from an editor about your novel and she said, "I had a difficult time relating to your heroine" and a part of you reads that as, "I don't like you."

This is obviously an extreme example but always remember not to take a comment like that personally; the editor was talking about your manuscript, and not you as a person. It can be difficult to make this distinction because your manuscript is your baby and you've slaved over it for months, if not years. If they attack your manuscript, it can feel like they attacked you. But look at what she said and you'll see she wasn't even attacking the manuscript; she simply couldn't relate to the heroine. That isn't good or bad; it's just a comment. Analyzing that comment could help you refine and deepen your manuscript.

One part of "Don't Take it Personally!" that relates to writers in particular was about an actor who was disheartened after so many auditions where the casting director said, "you aren't the right type". This actor bolstered her spirits and continued auditioning by remembering it is about selection, not rejection.

This applies to writers as well: editors are selecting not rejecting. Your manuscript might not have registered the right note with this editor but there are many editors. Never let one "selection" letter discourage you, but do pay attention to what they said.

Case in point: Dorchester rejected "Thief" for the "New Voice in Romance Contest" in 2003 because I had too much back-story that dragged the pace. This "selection" letter hurt but I paid attention, and I removed that back-story for later in the novel and then submitted the updated manuscript for American Title, and bingo! I was in. In round three, I got eliminated. But that doesn't mean, "we don't like you", it just means the other entries struck stronger notes with readers.

Elayne Savage in her introduction to "Don't Take it Personally" said, "I discovered that the opposite of rejection is not just acceptance--it's also perseverance." I think this applies to writers as well because the only way I've found to get over a rejection is to learn from it and then move on.

So, what have you learned from your "selection" letters? Did you ever have a big “Ah-ha!” moment that helped you edit a manuscript?


Destiny Blaine said...

I’ve had a lot of “ah-ha” moments but you’re right; it is easy to read more into a rejection letter than what is there. Human nature allows us to stamp our hearts on every query or manuscript we send out.

I have to say, that ninety percent of the rejection letters I’ve received have been extremely helpful. Keep in mind that these are coming from agents (primarily) so that may be the difference. I think, for the most part, editors don’t typically have the time or take the time to write more personal notes when they reject a manuscript so those letters don’t normally hit with a punch. And I'm counting my blessings-not complaining!

Regardless of who sends the letter or what it states, I just shrug it off and think to myself, “There’s always next time” so with that in mind, I go have a bite of something with chocolate. Then, even the rejection seems bitter sweet because of course, there’s another possibility waiting with every rejection letter that comes in.

Wonderful topic, as always!


Lexie O'Neill said...

Dear Anitra,
I have, so far, found contest comments to be the most helpful. I didn't even final in a contest in January, but one of the judges took the time to give me two single-spaced pages of comments! Talk about helpful!
Now, if I could get past the form letters from editors/agents!
Thank you for the blog!;)

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

Destiny--I think you are right about agents taking more time to offer a tip or two where editors don't.

Lex--I have learned a lot about self-editing from contests. :)

Savanna Kougar said...

Anitra, wonderful blog. Ain't it the truth, trying to separate your personal feelings by simply looking at rejection from an objective learning standpoint. It's probably a soul lesson for me, since rejection was such a big part of my childhood.
I do my best to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to critiques or comments. Since I truly do want to write the best story I can, while, at the same time, I don't want to go off track just because someone else didn't like it for whatever reason, personal to them.
Perseverance definitely does pay off in my experience -- and looking for that next opportunity coming down the pike.
And, I especially like Glynis McCants, super numerolgists, viewpoint. To paraphrase: If they reject you, it's not the right publisher for you. Just keep on going.

Destiny, lovely to see you here!

Susan Macatee said...

Great blog, Anitra!

While I haven't learned much from rejection letters...most of those I've gotten were form letters and the last one was purely subjective. They said my writing didn't dazzle them.

But I have learned a lot from entering contests. I've gotten great comments that helped me revise my manuscript, and even the awful comments that trashed my story helped me learn that everyone won't like my writing or story, but that's all right.

It's made it easier for me to deal with rejections and low scores in contests and take criticism with a grain of salt. I use the comments I like to improve what I write and the ones that aren't helpful I can shrug off without feeling like I've being personally attacked.

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

Sav--I think there really is a "right time, right place" for all things, including manuscripts! :)

Susan--I owe a lot to contests. Like you, I would toss out the rude or weird comments and pay attention to the constructive ones. :)

Helen Scott Taylor said...

Anitra, Interesting post. I'm a great believer in perseverence. If there is a secret to success it's to keep going until you get where you want to be, however long it takes.

I haven't learned much from rejection letters, which, on the whole, I've found vague and unhelpful. I have learned from contest judges, but I've learned far more from critique partners.

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

Helen--I think we learn from all kinds of sources. Contests, agents, editors, friends--it doesn't really matter where--just that someone, somewhere, helped us on the journey. I can't even begin to list all the people who have helped me... :)

But the biggest help of all has been my own tenacity. I am like a dog with a bone. I just don't give up! I always kinda imagine myself as one of those blowup punching dolls, you know, they have a big bag of sand in the bottom and no matter how hard you hit them, they spring back up. Ya. That's me! And I *think* that's all of the ATIV finalists too. No matter how hard someone hits us, we bounce right back up! :)