Publisher rejection is a common and inevitable writer experience. Whether it’s from an agent, an editor, a publisher, or a reader, rejection can sting and discourage even the most passionate and talented writers. How do writers handle publisher rejection and not give up on their dreams? They may employ any number of strategies and mindsets to cope with rejection, learn from it, and move forward with confidence and resilience. Perhaps the most effective strategy evolves from understanding the rejection and the publisher's reasoning so as to improve publishing chances and avoid the mentalities that place writers at the mercy of rejection.
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Fearlessness When You Write
No matter how difficult or scary it feels
I know it’s easy for me to say; I’m approaching my mid-70s so what do I have to lose?
But that doesn’t make it any less true for you.
My best years for writing, for making money for fucking for getting right with God for reacting quickly in situations that require quick reactions — my best days for pretty much everything are behind me.
Pretty much, everything, that is, except not giving a fuck whether what I’m saying makes everyone (or even MOST everyone) happy.
Everything, that is except risking being honest and truthful in what I say and write.
“What have I got to lose?” Good question with an even better answer, “Not a fuckin’ thing.”
But here’s a relevant truth, my being old isn’t all of this. Looking back over my career and looking at the careers of other artists I admire and that are more broadly known in the world, the most common characteristic other than luck, talent, and persistence in the pursuit and succeeding at their art has been courage.
Specifically, courage that includes not caring whether what they were doing might offend or be rejected by some people.
If your writing, your painting, your tap-dancing, sculpting, film or stage acting, any other forms of artistic expression mean something more and other than just making money or striving for some fantasy of immortality, you’ll find out by considering just what you are self-censoring and avoiding and afraid of saying or trying to do in your work.
We are only as healthy as our secrets but the secrets we are afraid to face about ourselves, with ourselves, are the ones that cripple us worst.
As a writer or poet the best place to start toward becoming the most you can be in your work is to face what you’re afraid to say and find the courage to fuckin’ say it.
Write the scariest shit you can think of. and put your real name on it and deal with your fears.
Unless and until you do this, you're playing, not working, you're dancing around the edge of the fire, not walking through it: playing not working in the worst definitions of each.
Started Writing at 16
I’m now 74, it didn’t go exactly as planned
And so on...
And I’ll try never to think that it’s my talent level, my productive output, or my limitations that have anything to do with such gross and unfair neglect and abuse.
I’ll say, “Well, you know, it’s the academics, all simply writing for one another and publishing one another and all centered in New York, for god’s sake, they have the fix in.”
And I’ll know there could be some small bit of truth in this but that mostly I’m lying to myself to feel better about how things have worked out.
Me and Bukowski and millions more dead poets, all smiling to ourselves: Fake smiles in varying degrees of ridiculous sincerity.
When I never win a Pulitzer, I’ll go into a sort of Trumpian misdirection of the Big lie/little lie: I’ll start to type and then what comes will be:
The Greatest Writer of the modern era steps out and smiles into an empty room, thinking about what he’ll say in his polite but firm rejection of a National Book Award, a Poet laureate offer from a major University, a Pulitzer, and to the Nobel Committee or for any other honors or tributes tendered to his magnificence because the great man is now firmly opposed to such gross and obvious pandering and vulgar commercialization of his art and integrity.
Next, he smiles, nods one last time to the empty room, then steps back into his office and types up this idiotic, but nonetheless somehow kind of true account of himself and his world.
Yes, I suspect that like many other great writers, I’ll be ready, I AM ready, to never win any further great prizes and public adulation and celebrations of my greatness because that simply comes with the territory of being a largely unappreciated, or even insufficiently albeit slightly recognized, genius.
And so on . . . and so on.
The Pimps of Literature
At eighteen I began sporadically submitting poetry and my first novel manuscript: a disheartening effort that continued for several years. According to friends and a few academics, I was lucky because I received correspondence from some publishers.
I did not feel lucky.
By twenty-five I ceased active pursuit of publishing, succumbing to many personal problems that stripped me of my ability to write for a time but those years of publishing adventure marred me with frustration. For someone working for eight dollars an hour, little time or money could be allocated to visiting the library and using the Literary Market Place guide to find publishers even willing to accept submissions. Each publisher had various requirements and mailing different queries and manuscripts consumed not just time to prepare submissions but also the weeks and months to receive replies if any.
In my late twenties and early thirties, I began writing and intermittently querying publishers again but quickly frustrated with the submission task. By this point, an overhaul of my beliefs progressively altered from the Christian-infused capitalist dream of success to weariness for everything I’d been taught. My misgivings concerning career and economics would take another twenty years but publishing was likely one of, or the first of many rejections of the commercial wisdom that dominates society. The catalyst for my rejection of publishing arose in the lack of choice taught:
No one asked me if I wanted to be a writer. Not one teacher ever presented writing as an occupation or career choice. Oppositely, people discussed writing in lofty farfetched stories of “making it” founded on the “work hard and it will happen” work ethic that fails so frequently.
When you ruminated on this reality the career writer mythologizes into a mere aspiration with the best hope of practicing alongside your “real” job that actually paid and had value.
Perhaps the greatest lesson in this tale is that working a “real” job ended after years of punishing myself with increasing stress and labor only to be considered worth less than when I started that career almost fifteen years prior. The religion of business, fueled by the Christian work ethic, reveals as a farce that is intended to keep you enslaved so that the people who control money and resources will continue to control them. Sure, people become rich and can move up the ladder sometimes but these are rare instances. How many writers get published and how many of those writers continue to get published throughout their lives and how many writers get movie deals, and of those how many get rich, and how many writers make enough money to start a publishing house or production company?
When you begin answering these questions, the façade of publishers disintegrates in the truth that they are just another commerce-motivated institution unconcerned with literature’s intrinsic and historical value. Yet they brand themselves oppositely as the gatekeepers to quality writing and maintain this air of superiority that keeps authors mailing and waiting like a dog salivating for the biscuit of “published,” as though this title certifies them as authentic.
For their dishonesty, I title them The Pimps of Literature.
The Pimps are worse than the sleazy car salesman because you at least know that you are being bullshitted when you enter the car lot. They are selling you a pipedream, and by the time you realize you’ve been fooled, you’ll be receiving rejection letters again from the same publisher that once praised you.
You are no longer marketable.
Whether you desire to deal with these people or not is your decision and this may work in your favor or you may end up spending years waiting. If you choose traditional publishing, you should deal with these companies as a business because it is a business. As simple as this sounds, authors fail to deal with publishers in a transactional way and instead act like a dog receiving a pat on the head. This behavior, understandable but also predictable, illustrates how publishers want you to pander to them. Knowing publishers as the frauds they are means publication is possible and likely: Don't seat rejection, play the game, follow their rules, and if you submit to different publishers as much as they allow, you will likely get published at some point. It’s just a numbers game.
(I have seen some poorly edited, horrifically formatted, and just downright badly-scribbled books come out of the biggest publishing houses.)
Oh, and before you sign any deal the Pimps of Literature offers, have an attorney review it.
Handling Her Sexy Rejection of My Writing Submission
A very true, VERY short, very tragic story.
With her rejection of my submission, she sent a note:
“I see a lot more self-promotion than curatable content here.”
Can you come up with a better example of “rejection of submission,” like Being a humble, self-serving, BDSM-Psycho-Killer?
I admit, her suggestion confused me.
But I thanked her nonetheless and agreed that self-promo was a great skill of mine, o’ my inerrant love goddess and Dominatrix.
I lack objectivity in this matter
If I were to sit down, having some time on my hands and a bit of patience, and read my poems.
Only if they were written by someone else and I was looking to be entertained, enlightened, or even just to kill a little time, I’d think the guy who wrote this shit was some kind of fuckin’ genius.
How any editor could miss this is a great mystery to me.
Copyright Vincent Triola & Terry Trueman