With six novels and two nonfiction books in my repertoire, possibly two hundred essays and blog posts, and dozens of published pieces in magazines, many might think I don’t get rejected anymore. And that if I do, I shrug it off and move on unfazed.
I’d love to say that rejection rolls off me unnoticed, but I’d be lying. Having written seriously for 17 years, I indeed weather it better, but that little sting still bites when I read the words: “Sorry, Unable to use this,” or “This is not for us.”
Initially, being refused knocked me on my heels. A few times I cried, but over time I evolved, restructuring my attitude, giving myself the mindset that:
1) Rejection isn’t about me as a person, and
2) Nobody holds me down.
My First Agent Rejection
My novels tested me most. I didn’t suddenly write a good story. I didn’t instantly publish. I fell down more times than I can count, and I learned that it mattered most that I get back up.
I wrote my first mystery in 1998-1999. After my mother introduced me to a friend, a New York Times Bestselling author with several dozen books under her belt, I acquired instant access to an agent, a valuable coup. Regardless, I received my first agent rejection. If I couldn’t make it with connections, I decided I wasn’t cut out to be a novelist. At least not then.
The Decision to Freelance
So I turned to freelance, itching to keep that writing momentum going somewhere. My work appeared online and in magazines. There were no blogs at the time. In the ensuing four years, I grew a newsletter following of several thousand, representing one of only three writing newsletters at the time (Angela Hoy, Absolute Write, and my FundsforWriters). I made little money, but in the back of my mind I kept thinking “platform.” It was a buzz word that wouldn’t become popular for over another decade. It just made sense that if I became known as any type of writer, it enhanced my chances with agents and publishers . . . just in case I ever wanted to write my mystery again, a niggling doubt I hadn’t overcome yet.
Rewriting the Book
At the end of four years, I quit feeling sorry for myself and pulled out the manuscript . . . and it was horrid. In that four years of writing, I’d unknowingly honed my skills to a new level. Any writing helps, you know. Any writing whatsoever, and in my weekly essays and frequent freelance submissions, I’d improved. So I threw away the manuscript, keeping an outline, and joined an online critique group (after trying three others that didn’t fit) to begin anew as a fledgling novelist.
Months later, my group called the book good, but not great. So I threw it away again and started over again, only this time in first instead of third person, like I wrote my weekly essays in FundsforWriters. The story sang much better once I recognized my strengths.
Testing the Waters
Once I finished it, running each chapter through the group multiple times, I faced the time for submissions . . . and took a different approach. Partly out of fear, and partly to test how rejection felt without really being rejected, I submitted my chapters to contests. Somehow those rejections didn’t seem so personal. Once I started placing in competitions, my confidence sputtered and grew, so I tackled submissions to agents and publishers.
After 36 rejections, and an excellent 80 percent response rate, I realized I was close but not quite ready, so I took time to perform a rewrite/hard edit of the story. A few months later, I began again, and agent submission number 72 signed me up.
Lesson 1: Keep Moving Forward
That momentum thing? It not only keeps you growing and learning, but it keeps you sane amidst the waiting. My agent submitted to publishers for 18 months, but I signed with a publisher I researched and forwarded to her. Waiting isn’t fun, so don’t do it. Keep moving forward.
Lesson 2: The platform is only useful if it appeals to your ideal reader.
Things are great, right? Lowcountry Bribe came out in 2012, and FundsforWriters was 20,000 strong, but I quickly hit a brick wall, losing a little bit of air out of my sails as I learned: FundsforWriters was not the niche market for my mysteries. That readership consisted of writers seeking their own opportunities, not mystery readers. I needed to grow a new platform. FundsforWriters meant little to the fiction world.
Lesson 3: Few people recognize you as a serious author with only one book published.
Just when I thought I’d arrived, bookstores slammed their doors in my face, not taking me seriously. Readers asked repeatedly if it was a series. If it was, they asked, why did I only have one book. More than a few said they’d wait until I had several books published. A different sort of rejection, but one that cut to the bone nonetheless.
The Rest of the Lessons I’ve Learned
Today it’s 2016, and on August 5, I’m releasing my sixth novel, Echoes of Edisto, book three in the Edisto Island Mystery Series. My publisher loves my work and keeps me busy, but I haven’t stopped learning and growing for fear of growing stale or missing changes in the industry. Too many energetic writers are clamoring to be bestselling authors.
My journey is far from over, but I’ve accrued a long list of lessons . . . lessons that can be yours as well. Trust me, they apply to us all:
- 1) Rejection is standard in this business. Expect it.
- 2) Rejection is about the product not the manufacturer, unless you alienate an agent at a conference. In that case, find more agents and don’t alienate them. They’re a dime a dozen.
- 3) You never become too successful to be rejected. Somebody somewhere doesn’t want you, doesn’t like your work, or doesn’t approve of your methods.
- 4) You cannot over-edit. Lack of editing is the quickest route to rejection.
- 5) Rejection can be a blessing, preventing less-than-stellar work from being released into a very unforgiving world. Always assume your work could use improvement. It’s never perfect.
- 6) Self-publishing does not rid you of rejection. You just experience it in another way when bookstores don’t want your books or readers turn you away.
- 7) Rejection is a learning tool. Embrace the whys of it, and you grow wiser.
- 8) If one direction, style, or genre isn’t working for you, try another. Become a multi-talented writer.
- 9) There is no one way to write, edit, publish, or market. Frankly, the more unique you are in your endeavors, often the more marketable you become. Everyone wants to be like the person who finds a new way, but is leery of being that person. Be that person.
- 10) Nobody can take writing from you. Only you determine if you keep going. That decision is in absolutely nobody’s hands but yours.
The Truth about Writing
You drive this writing business. Only you. Keep learning, keep writing, but most of all keep striving to move forward and improve. Publishing changes daily. You’ll be on top today and on the bottom tomorrow, but only you dictate whether to drop out of the race. Keep running and you eventually reach the finish line.
About the Author
C. Hope Clark is author of The Carolina Slade Mysteries and The Edisto Island Mysteries. Echoes of Edisto is her latest release. Hope speaks nationally, teaches writing, and still manages that little newsletter she started so long ago, which now reaches 35,000 readers and has been recognized by Writer’s Digest in its 101 Best Websites for Writers. www.chopeclark.com / www.fundsforwriters.com