You've done it. After months of work, years of procrastination, and a lifetime of uncertainty, you've finished a major project. Whether it's a screenplay, a manuscript, or a collection of Gossip Girl slash-fiction, your masterpiece is finally complete. Now, with your heart in your throat, you send out the dreaded query letters to agents and publishers worldwide. You wait with bated breath and then...
Like the iconic scene of Beauty and the Beast, it is a tale as old as time. The writer works, the corporate fat cat on the other end of the line rejects. Isn't that how it's supposed to go? Well, as someone who's seen his fair share of rejection, I can tell you: It never stops sucking. I wish I could throw useless platitudes your way, but the truth is harsh. This is a competitive, dog-eat-dog kind of business, and most of the time you will not get your way.
So instead of trying to convince you that rejection is just a fun part of building your career, I wanted to look at how we can deal with failure and move forward toward success.
This sucks. I mean it really sucks. Rejection is never easy.
I mean, there you were, manuscript in hand, ready to take the world by storm, and then some sonofabitch lit-jockey pulled the rug from beneath your feet?
Well, no. Not exactly.
Literary agents have a very important role in the industry. While it can be frustrating, watching your idea splash against their impenetrable wall, you have to understand that they are people too. Their jobs, and the livelihoods of everyone in their circle, depends on their ability to move your product to market. If they don't think it's an easy sell, they'll likely pass, even if it's the next To Kill a Mockingbird.
Take some time after a rejection to grieve, but not too long. Somewhere between sixty seconds to three minutes. Basically, long enough to finish a beer/glass of wine/tumbler of sweet, sweet scotch.
Then you need to move on to step 2.
First and foremost, DO NOT COMPLAIN TO THE AGENT!
For starters, they don't care. It's nothing personal, but they seriously do not have time for your whining when they are trying to earn a living. Yes, you are filled with righteous fury at being rejected, but it is no longer their problem.
Instead, complain to people who will actually care. Talk with your friends and family. Share your burden and get a few "Well, that sucks" in return.
No, you're not going to feel better after this step. It's really just about venting. But that's an important part of the process.
NOTE: If you do not have friends or family to complain to, I suggest taking a dry-erase marker and making a mustache on your mirror. Then, complain to yourself, but it will feel like you're talking to a stranger.
Dwelling on failure is the absolute wrong move. You need to get out of your own head for a bit. Distraction is key, because a sullen and depressed writer isn't cranking out Grade A product, and you don't need to add Writer's Block to your list of problems.
Watch TV, play video games, read a book. Heck, get out of the house and go for a jog or a workout. Meet up with friends and eat something fried and horrible. Just get away from your thoughts and frustrations for an evening or two.
Now you're back at your computer, and you know what? That rejection wasn't so bad. Sure, you didn't get the agent or publisher you wanted, but so what? Do you know how many publishers there are in America alone? Or how many lit-agents are rising and falling just today?
Sitting on your butt and complaining is only going to make life harder and less fun. So stop. Stop it. Stop being a whiner. You had that time during steps one and two. Now it's time to focus.
Get in front of your computer and work. Edit the crap out of that manuscript. Write a new one. Write two books in a month. Sign up for a contest. Free write for two straight hours and don't read it until the next day. Enter an open mic and read a section from your story.
Write your way out, as Alexander Hamilton once sang. And then, once you've poured all that emotion and energy into your new product, you know what it's time to do?
5) Try Again