As a starting writer, there are a couple of things you need to get used to doing a lot of: writing and handling rejection.
It’s not easy to reveal and work on one’s voice as a writer. But when you do, it will feel comfortable and natural. You will be able to determine how good your writing really is and you can be true to it.
Flexing your writing muscle daily, gets you into a good habit of writing topics you’ve been mulling, researching, and/or taking notes about. Writers always take notes, no matter where they are or what they’re doing. You should keep your eyes and mind open for the next idea, or for when the muse might strike. You should also be able to write on the spot about any given topic, and against a deadline. Even putting a fake deadline up and writing against it, will help you flex your writing muscle in a very good way.
After all, you can’t always expect to come up with a great story idea when you come back in the door from an afternoon stroll.
You should probably also procure a good reviewer friend who can give you objective, critical, and constructive feedback on your pieces…particularly those you feel are good enough to sell or get published somewhere. These are typically the more complex and longer pieces. Better yet, if you’ve done your due diligence and found yourself a mentor, this would be a great opportunity for you to learn and for them to provide objective, informed feedback. If you have a mentor in the business, you’ve got an even better resource.
An excellent example of how important the mentor-starting writer relationship can be is the case of NYTimes and Pulitzer Prize winner Ira Berkow, which I discussed in an earlier post. Mr. Berkow developed his mentorship relationship with NYTimes writer Red Smith while he was still in college—the friendship was invaluable to his writing and lasted a lifetime.
No, You Can’t! Yes, I Can!
So now on to the not-so-great part of writing: rejection letters. You might approach agents, publishers, even a potential mentor. They might not be interested at the time, due to other commitments, or they may have pinpointed a particular problem with your writing. This is when you need to snap to and ask questions without pushing too hard. Make sure you learn as much as you can from the encounter, and don’t ever take it personally. You are supposed to take the learning opportunity and use it to inform your voice and your writing style to make both all they can be, not to bring you down in the dumps.
There is this really great article on Fictionwriting.about.com titled “How to Handle Rejection While Trying To Publish” that can help guide your mindset and action plan. Some of the relevant points raised in the article are:
- There are particular tastes at play when an editor or publisher reviews your work.
- Consider the other person’s late or short reply in the bigger picture: this might not be their full time job and they are probably swamped.
- It’s important to start with small, local publications and publishers because of the other opportunities that may stem from this contact.
- Develop a system to always have something out there under consideration so when the rejections come, you don’t have time to dwell on the negatives.
- Take a break and focus on the writing. Sending out items and getting rejection slips isn’t fun, and before you get bitter, you need to focus on the fun aspect of writing and creating.
This is all great advice and should definitely be kept in mind during your creation and submission process. Then, of course, there’s also the chance that you really need to work more on improving your writing quality, or better target your submissions to a better-matched publication or publisher. Ask your next rejection contact for specifics of what the problem was and work on it. If resubmission or rework is out of the question, ask whether they can suggest another publisher or publication—perhaps one more in line with your category or topic.
Also keep in mind that someone who can’t get fully behind a project is doing everyone a favor by not taking it on. But don’t burn your bridges. It’s better to remain courteous and that way, you will even gain respect and possibly, stick in their minds for a future opportunity.
Remember, there have been many others in your shoes. An article on Chicago’s examiner.com website lists the many famous authors who were rejected in their early days—sometimes rejected very harshly! Authors such as Stephen King and J.K. Rowling join the ranks of Dr. Seuss (rejected by 28 publishers) and many others, who strengthened their resolve and worked very hard to improve their writing until they found the right publisher or editor that gave them that first chance.
However your chosen writing, research, and submission process works, and however many rejection letters you get…if you know you’re working on your writing to be the best it can be, and if you are serious about getting it out there, you will surely find an understanding soul to either give you advice, get you connected, or give you that break you are looking for. But above all else, the experience of submitting your work and getting rejections can build invaluable experience…and even some great material for your next piece.