Sunday, March 9, 2014

The First...Rejection That Hurt

By Joy N. Hensley

Emily Dickinson once said, “Success is counted sweetest to those who ne’er succeed.” As writers, I think we are definitely part of those “ne’er succeeders.” Our lives are built around rejection. Whether it’s for “personal taste,” “market,” “not matching needs” or whatever else the rejection might say, rejection hurts.

I’ve been rejected so many times in my writing life that I can’t even begin to count. I started out keeping them all--what a great wallpaper this will make one day when I finally make it big! I’ve still got them all from back when agents used snail mail. Now, when the rejections come through e-mail, they’re just more noise, you know?

The one that hurt most, though, was one my agent, Mandy Hubbard at D4EO Literary Agency. One of my mentors, Charity Thamaseb recommended that I query her with my book. I researched, and fell in agent-love. I had to have her. Mandy liked the query and accepted the full manuscript to read.

Sadly, it came back as a pass. Not just any pass, though. This was the part that hurt the most. In her rejection, she said: There's SO MUCH to like here...I read it all the way to the end (I can count the number of times I've done that and not offered on one hand, because usually I know much sooner if its a no).

I mean, I was SO CLOSE. The agent I coveted above all other agents had read my entire book. Still, the book wasn’t good enough. I took that to mean *I* wasn’t good enough. And that hurts.

Here’s a trade secret from a debut author. WRITING HURTS. The rejection, the critique, the birthing of a book strong enough to sell to all hurts. And when you’re close enough that you’re almost there, but still not quite good enough, it hurts even more.

Something different happened with this rejection, though. Where other rejections made me want to crawl under the blankets and hibernate, Mandy’s rejection spurred me on. She gave me three concrete critiques of what she would have liked to have seen.

Once the grip of the rejection had loosened its hold, I signed up for a writer’s retreat that focused on revision. It was led by Cheryl Klein from Arthur Levine books. I thoroughly embarrassed myself during that weekend showing my “newbie”-ness, but I took away a lot of great information. It was the most beneficial writing experience I’ve had to date.

That summer (the summer of 2011), I busted my butt and re-wrote the entire book. Then I e-mailed Mandy again and asked if she’d like to see the new version. Three days later, she offered representation and I haven’t looked back since.

What I learned from this is simple: All the rejections that hurt but didn’t move me forward meant I wasn’t ready for what was coming. That’s not to say everyone else is that way, but it makes sense for me. I wasn’t ready mentally or with my writing until that summer. If I hadn’t taken that revision course, none of the books since then would have happened. It was the best weekend of my life, even if I did almost get struck by lightning and even if my tent did slide halfway down a mountain during a storm. I didn’t have the money to stay in the hotel; my grandma had footed the bill for the conference and I didn’t want to ask her for more money!

That rejection came at the time where my writing life was hanging by a thread. It was either quit or get serious.

I got serious.

The rejection hurt--God, did it hurt. But it also made me the writer I am today, and I wouldn’t take it back for anything.



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