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Writing Means Rejection

Sunday, January 7, 2007

I worked in advertising sales for over 13 years before moving into the book publishing industry. The best manager I ever worked under had a saying: “Seven nos means a yes.” Meaning, most of the time, our sales reps would hear “No” at least seven times from just one customer before getting them to say “Yes.” They were selling a unique product: the only large daily newspaper in Nashville. But the retailers were also being pitched by all of the local TV stations, the cable and satellite providers, all of the radio stations, other small weekly newspapers, the sports teams/venues (for signage at the pro football stadium, hockey arena, or minor league baseball stadium). The most successful sales reps I worked with believed firmly in the value of our product, and kept going back again and again and again (and again) pitching different products or special sections, taking sales proposals that offered discounts, and trying to help the retailer to see the advantage in choosing to advertise in the newspaper instead of the graveyard slot on the most popular radio station in town. One of the most important things these successful sales reps did was to sit down early with the client and perform a Needs Assessment, finding out everything they could about the business and its needs for reaching customers.

As writers, we are sales people. While our product is different, we must believe in it. Learning craft and revising our manuscripts is like that Needs Assessment the sales reps did—finding out what the publishers are looking for by way of point of view, voice, style, genre, etc.—so that we have the strongest product on the market.

I have received my share of rejections—verbal and written, most in the form of critiques. I went through a secular creative writing graduate school program where my inspirational romance novel was critiqued each of the four semesters by other students, many who know little to nothing about the Inspirational romance genre and rank it lowest of the low (but without being mean spirited with their remarks). Rather than be hurt or offended by these mini-rejections, though, I learned to pay attention to them. If I was told my writing was too much telling and not enough showing, I studied that aspect of craft and worked on it. When I was told I needed to inject humor into my writing, I allowed myself to stop taking my characters and story so seriously and just have fun with them. When I was told my hero wasn’t likeable, I reworked him until he became a swoon-worthy romantic hero. When I was told by an atheist that he thought the spiritual element should be stronger, I REALLY paid attention :-).

Does that mean these rejections don’t sting initially? Of course not! I am by nature a hackles-up/defensive personality. But once I started learning how to separate myself emotionally from the piece being critiqued, I discovered that I actually appreciated all of the remarks—especially those that pointed out the weak spots and helped me see how to become a better writer. I wanted to know what was wrong with it so I could fix it! Now that I’ve graduated, I miss the thrill of wondering what the preacher-turned-agnostic horror writer is going to say about the prayer I include in the spiritual climax scene.

In September 2006, I had the opportunity to speak to two of the top agents in the Christian publishing industry at the ACFW conference in Dallas—each for just a few minutes right before the awards banquet which was all I was there for. Both issued an invitation for me to submit my proposal to them. Within two weeks, I had received a letter of rejection from Agent “A”—my very first ever because it was the first time I’d ever submitted my writing for anything other than contests or school. Initially, I was shocked—stung—by the negative feedback in it (that the humorous tone does not work, it’s too wordy, and I need to “increase the craft” of my writing). The shock came into play because for months leading up to this rejection, I had been sure this was the agent God had been telling me I needed to submit to. The next week, Agent “B”—the one whom I spoke to “on a whim” (hmmm . . .)—requested a full manuscript and wanted to “talk more.” (More info to come on that situation soon!)

I know that to be published means I will face a lot of rejection in the near future—rejections from publishers that may range from “thanks, but not interested” to those like the one I received from Agent A. But I also know that these rejections are only preparing me to be able to read a bad review of one of my books and just shrug my shoulders, knowing not everyone is going to like my stories—but that’s not a reflection of anything negative about ME as a person.

The writer who is not receiving rejections is the writer who is not submitting their writing anywhere. Writing is more than just pouring our hearts out in prose—it’s putting our hopes and dreams on the line by opening ourselves up to criticism and rejection.

Bring it on!

  1. Erica Vetsch permalink
    Sunday, January 7, 2007 3:00 pm

    I’ve found it is easiest to take rejection (and I’ve had a bunch) if I keep working. I always need one project to be working on and one ‘in the percolator’ bubbling away. This keeps me looking ahead and making progress instead of wallowing in the pile of rejection letters.

    Isn’t it cool how God is in control of everything? Leading, guiding,directing ‘whims,’ and bringing about His will in spite of ourselves?

    If you’re looking for a topic for the blog…could you take an in depth look at telling/showing? I’d love to hear your ‘take’ on it.


  2. GeorgianaD permalink
    Tuesday, January 9, 2007 1:13 pm

    The BIG R. I think I’m unusually prepared for rejection through my life experience prior to writing. My last career involved door-to-door sales, if you can imagine that! I’ve had doors slammed in my face, been hung up on on the phone, and rejected countless times. But let’s wait and see how I take it with my writing….

    I like Erica’s suggestion about the showing v. telling blogs 🙂


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