I want to talk about rejections.
On Facebook and Instagram, and Twitter and these public places, we don’t usually hear about gut-wrenching stuff. These sites are perhaps how we market ourselves to the world. How we manage the front window of our lives and perhaps pull the curtain on the back room which might be darker and certainly messier.
I’m not saying what is shared out there isn’t genuine. These sharings simply seem selective as in … no one wants to hear someone whine.
I won’t go back too far, just to my last bout of job hunting (2008-2010) and then a bit of feedback as I shopped around my first novel. One led to the other. At the age of sixty-three (2009), when I seemed suddenly unemployable, my soon-to-be husband said, “Ok. Write the book. I’ll pay for vet bills and food.”
And I won’t try to say that rejection is a healthy thing that sets us on a better road or is a gift. That feels glib. Rejections hurt. And when they pile up like during my job-hunting failures and then my attempts to find representation as well as sell the novel, they deliver messages that take grit and courage to face the messages they deliver.
Fact to Face: You are now probably too old to compete with job candidates fifteen to twenty years younger in a Maine job market swamped with qualified younger applicants.
Job Rejection Letters (just a few here):
“My apologies for the length of time in getting back to you. We received 67 applications for the E.D. position, and the process has taken longer than we anticipated. You were among the top eight candidates, but we initially chose to interview a smaller number whose experiences most closely matched IHE’s needs.”
“The number of highly qualified applications that we’ve received has been truly remarkable. We wanted you to know that, while we were impressed with your skills, experience and genuine interest in working for MITA, our Search Committee is pursuing other candidates at this time.”
“As an organization we were flattered to see such interest in our Coalition and this position. We received a large number of very qualified applicants and this made our selection process more difficult.”
“I wanted to thank you again for talking the time to interview with us for the Director of Marketing position. I was frankly overwhelmed by the number of highly qualified individuals who applied for the job. Given this fact, we had a difficult decision to make, but we have offered the job to another candidate and they have accepted.”
Fact to Face: Even with an agent, my novel is not going to get picked up by a national or even a Maine publisher.
Book Rejections (just a few here; usually email)
“I also loved the concept for WOLF WOODS — as you know, we’ve done incredibly well with Margaret Mizushima’s novels, which have a similar concept, and I adore Maine and the idea of setting a thriller there. Try as I might, though, I just didn’t fall in love with Patton in the way I would need to in order to be able to make an offer on this.”
“The plot was great, but it took much too long to get into it. Too many detailed descriptive passages and tangents detracted from the main plot. I found myself trying to skip ahead and bypass the unnecessary prose.”
“I think the author has an interesting idea here and certainly can write, but I’m sorry to say that the story didn’t resonate in the way I had hoped.”
“She knows her territory, and I enjoyed her descriptions of Maine. However, I didn’t find the murder as believable as I’d need to get invested in the mystery. I’m sorry that this one isn’t for me, but thanks for giving me a chance with it.”
Did I stop job hunting? Yes. I stopped applying for career-level jobs but pursued seasonal work like the front desk at the Botanical Gardens.
Did I stop trying to sell the novel? No, but I moved over to co-op publishing or “pay to play” where I paid for most of the same services a small Indie publisher might offer me. (Great help: Jane Friedman’s chart.)
Did all this sink me? Sometimes, but my mode-altering drug of choice is the outdoors … with me in it. Yes, sometimes I sank as low as a fetal, rolled up ball on the floor, but then I have dogs that lay their heads in my lap and lick my tears and say (quite selfishly) “You done? Let’s go out.”
If we are still standing, we have our survival strategies, but rejection is still often a life altering event. Piled on repeatedly, it demands survival strategies, friendships, grit, and often a renewed faith in ourselves when the rest of the world is rejecting us.
And for me, there’s nature’s feel-good message after a blizzardy ski or a hike where legs get wobbly before the car appears, or unexpected wind makes the paddle home a wrestle with the lake.
That’s when I am in a full-on acceptance mode, far beyond any hint of rejection and I can honestly say what really matters: “Damn, I’m good.”
PS Just for fun: famous rejections:
Marcel Proust had to pay for his own publication.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig was rejected 121 times before it was published.
Animal Farm by George Orwell was rejected because “there is no market for animal stories in the USA.”
J. K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame was told “not to quit her day job.”
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell was rejected 38 times before it was published.
John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was passed on because le Carré “hasn’t got any future.”
Sandy’s debut novel, “Deadly Trespass, A Mystery in Maine” won a national Mystery Writers of America award, was a finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, and was a finalist for a Maine Literary Award. The second Mystery in Maine, “Deadly Turn,” was published in 2021. Her third “Deadly” is due out in 2022. Find her novels at all Shermans Books (Maine) and on Amazon. Find more info on Sandy’s website.
Sandy thanks for sharing the hard stuff, but most importantly, thank you for not giving up! PS the dogs are correct…huge smile;)
Yes Yes Yes…on dogs, Julianne. Thanks for the encouragement. (Think I had too much to say, anyway. 🙂 S
Thanks, Sandy. We need to be reminded that rejection is part of the game, but doesn’t define the work.
Thanks so much, Dick. Yes. Does not define us. Can inform us (or not) but not define. Many thganks! S
I’m in the process of semi-self publishing a short story anthology. the rejection letter I received from an unnamed Maine press told me they either didn’t bother reading it, or they completely missed the point. Either way, it hardly deterred me. As for job hunting, I remember how woefully unequipped I was when I started looking for something new after 27 years at AMHI. I had no clue how to interview. Fortunately a mix of anger, desperation and a new MLIS got me out the door. Today, I keep one thing in mind: If my today is good, all my yesterdays were worth it. PS Love the last photo.
Oh John, Thanks for that current and past Don’t Give Up …journey. I am not a fan of the Maine standard press scene, although I am sure they are swamped. But I did feel no one was able to give a human and humane look-see or reply. Sigh. Like your “if today is good” mantra. Thanks!
Thanks, Sandy. Rejection is difficult, agree that keeping a larger perspective is so important. I’m darn glad you have not let it keep you from writing, my friend.
Thanks, Brenda! I think I just had too much to say to stop..anyway. Thanks for the warm support. Means a lot! My best to you,
Can so relate to this. And yes…we don’t often talk about rejection because of wanting/needing to present that public face of success. In those dark days of rejection, though, I have been steered by my stubborn refusal to give up in great directions. Getting the Thea Kozak series dropped led to Joe Burgess and to Level Best Books and to the whole world of taking chances. Thanks for sharing this, Sandy.
Thanks Kate. Was a bit hesitant to write the post but then decided that I really needed to. For me, really. And I so love the Joe B series. And I so approve of “stubborn refusal” and think you are a ‘light’ in that direction. I have been in a bit of a trough with novel #3, but am coming up for air. This time, salamanders. Yes, nuts…but…Thanks for all you do to shepard the Crime Writers….
If those rejections were for Deadly Trespass all I can say is WHAT WERE THEY THINKING! It’s a great book.
Hi! You made my DAY when I read your message, Kait! It’s good that I also like the book and am so very pleased when folks like you do, too. Am poking away at the #3 one. This time, salamanders. I know. Sounds nuts….but. Hope all is going well with you. S.
Excellent article. Thanks for sharing. I’m wondering if you made changes to the book based on an editor’s critique / suggestions?
The best advice I got was if I heard a trend or recurring theme in feedback, to listen to it, no matter who is came from. If it was a “one-off” like the comment on “too many details” ..ignore it. Turns out, readers just love the details in the novels. I did get recurring feedback on making sure that when characters return after not being seen for a while, I needed to find a way to refresh readers with who they were. I worked on that in book #2. Those comments came from my readers. Sandy