Rejection and Duck Hunting
As a fairly new hand to writing for fun and profit, I don’t have a lot of preconceptions to fight with. When those who’ve been down the road before tell me they were rejected numerous times before success, I believe them. I believe the road will be arduous, and that I’ll likely get discouraged and want to quit at some point along the way. I have no reason not to.
But I may have a deep rooted strategic advantage many of my compatriots lacked, i.e. I’ve had a sales job my entire adult life, which means I already get rejected about 100 times a day. That is a large part of what sales is about; digging through the desert of angry, underpaid and under appreciated business owners to find that diamond who is willing to listen. There is a sales adage that states most sales are made on the 5th call, but most sales people quit at the third. Pressing through the discomfort is what winners do.
As much as business owners hate sales people, they also love them, because we are their pressure release valve. All day long they deal with clients who have ridiculous demands and unrealistic expectations, and they have to smile and nod politely, all the while wanting to choke the idiots. The pressure becomes unbearable, and just in time the guy trying to sell them payroll services walks in. Pressure release anyone? The guy walks out bow-legged and the owner now has the capability of getting through the rest of his day. Catch that owner after making a huge deal, the same guy with the same product walks away with a signed contract.
The main difference, of course, is that in the above case, it’s not the salesman getting rejected as much as it’s his timing and product. To reject my work is, fundamentally, like beating up my kids at recess. My words are made of me, like baby ducklings following me all in a line. I love them all, even the ugly one. Timing is harder to gauge, because even terrible sellers can trip on a gold mine, but that is usually a one time thing. Product is key, as even terrible sellers can move an inventory of iPhones…the things sell themselves.
Unfortunately we have no magic widget in writing. There were ‘boy goes to wizard school’ books before Harry Potter, and there have been more since, but none with the same impact. Harry won because Harry was better. Sure it caught the market at the right time, but the success was due to product. Many writers tell stories of an agent or editor rejecting something, then getting it again later and grabbing hold of it. We remember those times, not because they are common, but because they are rare. Timing is no small thing, but it can’t be counted on. All we can count on is quality.
I have a special folder on my computer labeled ‘Love Letters’, and another labeled ‘Junk Mail’. Inside the first are the form letters I’ve received from publications letting me know they got my submission, and they’ll let me know what they think soon. In the other is the wonderful collection of form letter rejections those same publications have sent letting me know (politely, of course) thanks, but no thanks. Once message 2 arrives I generally delete message 1, but that gap in between – when I believe this is the one that will be picked up – is a magical one. In that glorious age, I imagine crafting my award speeches, signing book covers and becoming a madcap eccentric with a Rothfussian beard to impress my swooning fans at Comic Con.
Letter 2 ends my delusions, and I quickly go through the process:
1. They are idiots and wouldn’t know good writing if it sat on their face. They don’t DESERVE to print my wondrous gift of prose.
2. I am the worst writer in the world and should quit and castrate myself so my horrible writing gene isn’t passed on.
3. Is there anyone I haven’t sent it to yet?
This process generally takes about ten minutes.
It probably lasts longer for other people, but I get rejected by 95% of the people I talk to every day, so if I went postal every time it happened I’d be homeless. Don’t get me wrong, despite my comfort level, it still hurts, and it leaves me with questions. With no real feedback but ‘no’, it’s hard to be certain I’m on the right track. Am I getting better? Am I getting worse? Was it borderline, or an embarrassment?
In those times I try to remember a poster my dad gave me for my high school graduation. It was a picture of a basketball goal in an empty gym, with the words “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” underneath. Every sale ever made didn’t happen until it did. Every published author that ever was, at some time in their life, wasn’t. There are wonderful stories, alive but imprisoned in a folder somewhere, that we’ll never read because its’ writer couldn’t take one more punch in the gut. At some point, everything that ever was, or ever will be, went from ‘no’ to ‘yes’.
So I keep writing and sending off my word ducklings to try and make it out there in the big, bad world. The editorial duck hunters keep shooting them down, perhaps because they hate ducks, perhaps from boredom, or perhaps because they know they are too weak to fly, and see putting them down as a mercy. But I believe one of them will eventually get through. So I’ll keep making more, and more, and more. Bigger and better and faster ducks. Invisible ducks. Fire-breathing ducks. Ducks that fly through walls. Carnivorous ducks with a sweet-tooth for editors. I’ll fill the air so full that a few can’t help but reach the sky. You have to sort through a lot of no to find yes.