The rejection that writers must face during the submission process to agents is brutal. Even though you know it will happen to you – as it does to all writers – it feels personal and daunting. It’s hard not to take it to heart when 20 or 30 literary agents say “no,” – with cold, automated “it’s not right for me” e-mails. It’s hard to remember that many of them receive 50-100 submissions a day; they can’t possibly respond to each one in any validating sort of way. And it only takes one “yes” to set you on the path to publication. How do you find a way to keep believing in yourself, to keep marching onward when doors continue to close? For me, the antidote to carrying around all that angst was to break a plate every time I was rejected.
Guest column by Beck McDowell, author of the YA thriller,
THIS IS NOT A DRILL (Nancy Paulsen Books, Oct. 2012), which
Kirkus called “a fast-paced, suspenseful thriller … A vividly depicted
and gripping tragedy.” It’s the story of two teens who must protect the
first graders they tutor when a soldier, suffering from PTSD, opens fire
in the classroom when not allowed to check out his son. Her nonfiction
work, LAST BUS OUT, is the story of a woman who stole a bus after
Hurricane Katrina and drove over 300 people to safety. Beck is a former
middle and high school AP English teacher who lives in Huntsville,
Alabama with her husband and two children. Find her on Twitter.
Although THIS IS NOT A DRILL (my recent YA release) snagged me an agent within 24 hours, an offer within two days, and a contract within two weeks, I’d previously suffered through months of submitting another work that was never published. (Most published authors have a work in a drawer.) When I realized I was internalizing all that rejection and unloading the resulting grumpiness on my family, I knew I needed a way to release the negative energy. So I stocked my backyard with two large rocks with sharp edges, a pile of china plates from yard sales and clearance racks, and a large bin to hold the pieces. Every time I got a rejection notice, I marched straight out to my China Garden and broke a plate. It was wonderfully cathartic – the sound of the crashing glass, the sight of the colorful fragments, the weight leaving my hands and my heart and head all at the same time.
Word got out. A friend who’d broken up with her boyfriend called to ask tearfully if she could come break a plate. Of course, I said, come on over. Another friend who didn’t get a job he wanted hinted he’d like to participate, so he was invited, too. My yard has a high fence around it; I never knew what my neighbors thought about the sounds coming across it, but they did give me strange looks from time to time when I left my house. I just smiled and waved.
(Check out The 10 Hidden Gifts of Rejection Letters.)
Don’t let the rejection get to you. Don’t take it personally. Keep writing. If one book doesn’t sell, get busy writing another one. Process is more important than product; your efforts are never wasted when you’re teaching yourself to write. Read great books like King’s ON WRITING and Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD. Read constantly in your genre, marking passages that impress you and studying those that don’t measure up. Attend local and regional writers conferences like SCBWI hosts to hear what agents, publisher, and other authors have to say. Read everything you can find online about making those first few pages sing, researching agents and writing a query letter. But keep going. Keep writing. Keep dreaming. Keep hoping. Break a plate, make a wish, and start a new chapter – in your life and in your work.
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- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and how to write a query letter.
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