Friday, August 24, 2012

Survivalist Guide to the Rejection Letter Blues

Between interviews and reviews, I've been reading other people's blogs.

I stumbled across one post by Sloane Taylor by way of Sharon Ledwith.  For the record, I agree with everything Sloane says:  editors (probably) aren't evil, and you do need to brush off the dust and to carry on.  After the rejection, review your manuscript again and make it ever stronger.

But Taylor glosses over what to do during what she calls the "blue period."  So, I'd like to amend this by proposing a few tried and true survival tactics. Now that I'm approaching my 20 year mark in "not getting a single full-length project published", you can count me as something of an expert in this regard.

So, allow me to present my three-step Survivalist Guide to the Rejection Letter Blues!

Step One:  Keep Score.

Award yourself special prizes every time you hit 100, 500 and 1,000 points.

- 10 points for every hard copy (snail-mailed) rejection letter that has your title and name on it
- 10 points for every electronic form rejection letter that has your title and name on it.
- 25 points for every hard copy rejection letter sent on 1/2 of a standard 8.5" x 11" letter
- 25 points for every electronic form rejection letter that does not include your name or title.
- 50 points for every hard copy rejection letter that has been photocopied askew by some nose-picking, cross-eyed lackey.
- 75 points for every rejection letter that has specific feedback addressed to you (or to your agent, if applicable)

- add 5 points every time your title is misspelled
- add 10 points every time your name is misspelled (I have an unfair advantage here!)
- add 15 points for every spelling error (aside from your name or title); be careful not to mistake a cultural variant for a spelling error:  you say color, I say colour; I say tire, she says tyre...

Suggested prizes:
- 100 points:  favourite non-alcoholic beverage in your local eatery/cafe, favourite candy/chocolate, thirty minutes of computer games...
- 500 points:  re-read your favourite book from childhood, dress up in your best formal wear and go out on a date with yourself...
- 1000 points:  play hopscotch at a bus stop, wear a Halloween costume around the house...

Step Two:  Allow yourself to react

Choose actions from each of the following lists - denial, angry, sad, oblivious/altruistic, eccentric-genius.  For fun, try a different combination each time you receive a rejection letter.

Denial Reaction (Choose One)

a) Laugh.  Point at your screen and/or letter and laugh again.  When someone asks you what you're laughing about, point and laugh at them, as if they didn't get the joke.  Bonus points if you can make them laugh with you.

b) Choose to believe that there has been a gross and laughable error on the part of the editor:  surely, there were two authors with your name, and two projects with your title, and simply by accident, you received the rejection letter that was clearly intended for the talentless hack who plagiarized both your name and your working title.

c) Recognize that this rejection letter was meant for your evil twin, and clearly wasn't meant to be addressed to you.  You get their mail all the time.  Especially around that time when you get your post-Christmas credit card bills.

d) Research the Illuminati. They have a blacklist of certain geniuses and will do everything in their power to ensure their ideas are stifled (aka never published), because in the near future those geniuses will unite and free mankind from the Illuminati's global domination.  Clearly, you are on their list, and you are the greatest threat to their power.

e) Write yourself an acceptance letter in the style of the editor who sent the rejection letter.  Mail it to yourself.  Celebrate when you get it in the mail.

f)  Celebrate all the book signings, contrived marketing campaigns, awkward live readings and reviews you don't have to endure yet!  Think of all that free time!

Angry Reaction (Choose One)

a) Make two copies of the rejection letter; if this is a rejection letter sent by mail, make photocopies; if it's an email rejection slip, print two copies.  Take one copy and tear it to shreds; use of teeth is strongly encouraged, but proceed with caution, because paper cuts between your teeth are ugly, painful and really hard to explain.  File the other copy for future reference.  You'll probably need to blog about the blindness and callousness of the rejecting editor once you've attained the success you so obviously and richly deserve.

b) Repeat after me:  "They couldn't handle teh awesomeness that is me!"  And this is true, because if they attempted to publish teh awesomeness that is you, their presses would be overwhelmed by the magic of your words, and the instead of printed paper, unicorns and rainbows will spew forth, and those are devilishly hard to bind in a standard 6"x9" paperback.  (And the use of "teh" in this case is deliberate.  It's an internetism.)

c) Shout, "No, I reject YOU, sir!"  (Substitute "ma'am" where applicable.)

d) Make up a list of the funniest substitutes for "Drat, I didn't get accepted".  Note:  this is a lot more fun when you don't use any of George Carlin's Seven Dirty Words.

e) Make anagrams of the rejecting editor's name (i.e. Carol Green = Coral Regen) or puzzle-fy the name (Carol Green = Harmony-Noel Verdant).  Use this name in your next book.  Make sure the new character is put into awkward and embarrassing situations.  Use with caution!  And beware of karma.

f) Yell "Hulk Smash!"  Extra points if you do this in a grocery line-up.

Sad Reaction (Choose One)

a) Go cry, you sad-face.  Blubbering is totally encouraged.  Ensure that you attain new volumes of post-nasal drip.  Unintelligible noises while pointing to and/or thwacking the rejection letter are advised.

b) Slouch in your chair while chewing bubble gum and vacuously watching YouTube videos of cats trying to jump into progressively smaller boxes.  Videos of giggling babies and/or of goofy dogs are also acceptable.

c) Wrap yourself in a blanket, sit in a chair in the corner, and blow bubbles in your spit.

d) Hum "Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, might as well go in the garden and eat worms."

e) Go watch this short film.  You'll thank me for it later.

f) Go make sad faces in the mirror.  Exaggeration of facial expressions is required.

Oblivious and/or Altruistic Reaction (Choose Two)

a) Go to your local cafe or eatery.  Pay for the non-alcoholic drinks for the next four people in line.

b) Find a sad, lonely stranger.  Tell them the funniest (and cleanest) true story that comes to mind.  Ask them how their day has been.

c) Write a totally random but encouraging email to a close friend, extolling at least three of their virtues.  Provide examples.

d) Go for a walk.  If you have any, take with you:  small child(ren), dogs, ferrets, cats, spouse(s), stuffed animal(s), toy firetruck...

e) Go to YouTube and find clips of your favourite cartoon from childhood.  Freakazoid is required viewing.

f) Give old books to a local charity, social organization or shelter.

g) Help a little old lady/old man across the road.

h) Do one random act of kindness.  Bonus points if no one sees you do it.

i) Spend time with family and friends, away from the computer.  They are now your primary focus.  Put interesting people between you and the rejection slip.

Eccentric-Genius Reaction (Choose Two)

a) While in a public location, give yourself a standing ovation.  'Cause you deserve it, man.  *sniff*  You so deserve it!

b) Spend the whole day as a superhero (or villain) in disguise.  Don't let anyone know they're talking to a real-life superhero (or villain).  Wear a secret smile, because this rejection letter is the one little defeat that propels you to righteous greatness!  Yes, you may wear your superhero underwear.  You have my blessing.

c) Write a parody of your own story.

d) Take one dialogue section of your story and save it in a separate file.  Change only the genders of all the characters, then regenderize the names (i.e. Charlie = Charlotte, Carla = Carl).  Re-read the scene.  Let the hilarity ensue.

e) Take one action scene and save it in a separate file.  Change all the weapons and projectiles into something ridiculous, i.e. guns = automatic bubble machines; bullets = spit balls; knives = overripe bananas.  Let the hilarity ensue.

f) Go to your personal library.  Pick up five books at random.  Write rejection letters for the authors.  (But for goodness sake, don't send the letters!  Sometimes you never know if you'll actually meet this person.  It's happened to me many times, and once in a New York City Indian food restaurant!)

g) Write down five reasons why you think your work wasn't good enough to be accepted.  Next, write the opposite of each of those five reasons; always end the positive phrases with an exclamation point.  For example, if you wrote "because my dialogue is formal and cludgy :( ", then write "because my dialogue is realistic and it totally flows like a real conversation that I can hear in my head!"  Recite all the opposites aloud, preferably with a bloody bold English accent as if you're narrating a rousing good game of rugby, football or polo.  Now, using all those positive phrases, go back to your project and prove yourself right - even if that means revising whole chapters to make it so.

Step Two and One Half:  Suggested Diet & Exercise

Recommended food stuffs.  For those of you with dietary restrictions, you might want to skip this part.

a) Sandwiches made of chocolate chip Eggos smothered in Nutella.
b) Ice cream, but only for breakfast.
c) Cotton candy and/or taffy and/or candy apples.  Any sugary snack that came from a country fair will do.
e) Like Sharon says:  wine and cheese.  I add, *in moderation!*  Because too much cheese can give you gas.
f) Eat dessert before the main course.  Go on.  Live dangerously.
g) Added by popular demand - and recent practice:  shawarma.  It's Avenger-approved!


a) Air drum / air guitar / sing along with the Muppet's version of Bohemian Rhapsody.
b) Dance to the Village People's YMCA.
c) Do the Funky Chicken and/or the Hustle (or this version, which is probably better known.)
d) Attempt one of the All Blacks haka, as shown hereOr here

Step Two and Three-Quarters:  What *not* to do, ever!

Do not...

Take it personally.

Take any of this process too seriously.

Assume that all publishers are stupid, blind and/or too busy to have actually read and appreciated your manuscript.  If you do assume this, you'll carry that attitude with you if and when you meet prospective publishers, editors and agents.

Assume that editors don't actually care about culture, art or innovation; assume that editors are only after the bottom line and will never pick up a new, unestablished author again.  Same reasons apply from the previous point.

Assume that everyone is waiting to see you fail.

Believe that you are doomed to a life of dead end jobs and poverty.

Assume that you'll never succeed at anything, ever again.

Assume that all other "successful" (aka published) authors were only accepted because of who they knew, not what they know or how well they write.

Let this letter become the existential crisis of your life.  Writers are more than tinkerers of words; they are people who experience life, and life (I'm led to believe) is somewhere outside.

Assume that you suck and you should never have bothered writing it in the first place.

Drown your sorrows in self-harming behaviours.  No one is worth it.


Step Three: The Post-Rejection Period

If and when all your outstanding submissions have been returned:

a)  Collect all the feedback to see if there are any trends (i.e. problem characters, superfluous scenes, flat narrative.)
b)  If you did write "five reasons why this book might have been rejected", add those to the feedback list.
c)  Write out your synopsis from memory.  Do not cheat.
d)  Re-read your book, making special note of any times your attention wandered - or when you were completely sucked into the story.  Highlighters are your friends.
e)  Prioritize what needs to be fixed:  Plot comes first. Characters come second.  Setting and mood come as a result of the first two.  Theme happens usually by accident, but you can highlight it in the second pass-through.
f)  Give yourself a goal of how many submissions you want to make this time around.  Create a plan.  Then, keep score and promise yourself prizes!
g)  Repeat Steps 1-3 as required.

Survival vs. Thrival

If you have received all of your submissions back and currently have nothing outstanding, congratulate yourself.  You have endured the hardest trials any writer can ever face (except for everything that comes after publication, of course).

If you can get through a series of rejection letters without crumpling into a big, whiny, alcoholic, sniveling bunch of nerves curled up in the foetal position under your desk, then you have what it takes to be a rejection letter survivalist.


If you can get through years of rejection letters, if you can incorporate what sketchy feedback you receive, if you can knuckle down and dredge up the most awe-inspiring, most bittersweet, most powerful narrative as a result of rejection, then congratulations:  you are a thrivalist.

Thrivalists grow with every rejection letter.  They go through the same reactions and sadness and anger that every other survivalist does.  The difference is:  they thrive in adversity.  They take their lumps and they come back swinging.  After every rejection letter, their next project is better, more solid, more fleshed out, more powerful than ever before.  And their rejection letters come back with progressively more detailed feedback - which only adds fuel to their spiritual fire.

So what are you?  A quitter?  A survivalist?  Or are have you got what it takes to be a thrivalist?

Hulk Smash!