I got off the bus, crossed in front of it, and ran to my mailbox. A cloud of exhaust drifted my way as the bus drove off just as I thrust my hand into the box. I pulled out the wad of mail and sifted through it flipping past bills, circulars, catalogs, and coupon books. Finally, at the very bottom of the pile, there it was. My stomach flipped as I held it between my fingers, turning it over. The back was filled with cursive text. He’d written back, and he’d written back a lot. I took off running toward the house, my Lisa Frank backpack bouncing up and down with each firm step. I bolted through the screen door screaming, “MAHM!! He wrote back!!!”
“No way!” she said, drying her hands with a dish towel as she walked out of the kitchen. “Show me!”
“Hold on, let me read it first,” I said as I let my backpack hit the floor.
I plopped down on the couch and stared at the photo of him on the front of the postcard. Sitting on a ladder, he was leaned forward—elbows casually resting on his knees—wearing a plaid button down over a white tee shirt and baggy jeans with work boots. His signature hair was perfectly parted in the center and his name was scrawled on the bottom—Johnathan Taylor Thomas. Star of the hit TV show Home Improvement and voice of young Simba in the Lion King, he was the hottest hottie in the entire universe and I was hopelessly in love with him. I had spent the prior month agonizing over my letter to him. I added details about my life I knew he’d understand, like my rising interest in theater and my love of New Kids on the Block. The finishing touch to my letter was adding the fact that I loved feta cheese, which I’d read in a teen magazine that he loved too. What other kid professes a love for feta cheese?? That was my sign from above. He and I were simply meant to be. I knew the postcard in my hands was going to tell me he felt the same way about me.
My heart racing, I turned the postcard over. My mom sat on the couch across from me, waiting for me to read it out loud. I drew a breath as the words on the postcard came into focus, “Dear Alexandra, Thank you so much for being such a big fan of my work. I love hearing from people just like you! As a gift, I would love to invite you to join my fan club free of charge. . .”
As I looked more closely, I realized this was not a handwritten note professing love—it was a standardized letter sent to me by his idiot assistant or something. He didn’t love me. He didn’t care about my love for the only form of socially acceptable goat cheese on the market. He was simply too famous to care who I was, which meant I was no one. With this realization, the blood drained from my face, I lost all sense of time, and I thought I was going to die.
This was my first taste of rejection and I promise you: I still remember the sting. That day, I sat with my head in my mom’s lap as she smoothed my hair and listened to me sob about how deeply I loved him and how he’d shattered my heart into a million pieces. She sat with me until the sun went down and I cried myself to sleep.
When I woke up the next day, my heart was a little harder; my mind a little sharper. The rejection had been brutal, but the lessons I learned from the experience were valuable. It’s possible I’d wanted this impossible thing because it was just that—impossible. The reality of it could have been awkward, weird, and full of more cheese than I’d bargained for. The tears stopped flowing and I moved forward. Little did I know how much that lesson about rejection would come into play in my life.
Writing comes with a lot of rejection. Like, a fuck ton of rejection. So much rejection that you wonder whether you should pack it in, move to a remote island, and change your name to Schmool. There’s no way around the fact that rejection sucks, however, there are ways to reframe our thinking about rejection to help remove some of the sting. Make no mistake, providing that you’re not a psychopath, you’ll likely still feel it, but the pain doesn’t have to linger. Instead, it can come and go, floating off into the ether once you’ve processed what’s happened.
Although I don’t have an exact formula for this, I have put some rules into place that help cushion the blow when the weight of rejection starts to pile up:
- When you receive a rejection letter from an agent or publisher, give yourself a little time to grieve. If you prohibit yourself from processing emotions you will end up exploding one day and may even consider leaving the craft altogether. Instead, process the loss, say goodbye to the prospect, and see if there’s anything you can learn. Sometimes, feedback is given, sometimes it isn’t. If it is, take that feedback to heart and see if there are ways you can tweak your proposal or your manuscript that may make it more marketable.
- As you take this potential partnership off the table, flip the script. Sometimes it helps to look critically at whether a partnership with this agent or publisher would have worked out anyway. Would they have really served you as an author or were you simply targeting them because you wanted the name behind you? If you wanted the name to give you clout, what can you learn about your own belief in yourself? Now, more than ever, authors are experiencing massive success without big names propping them up. There is no reason you cannot be a smashing success regardless of the way you publish or with whom.
- Have faith and trust. Thanks to my mom (hi, mom!), I constantly find myself repeating the mantra, “faith and trust.” I find it extremely helpful to maintain faith that the universe will provide guidance and to trust that the right path is being revealed. I look at each rejection like a bumper, keeping me on the right track. With this in mind, you may even be able to see rejection as a gift. You are being led to the exact right place, time, and venue for your story to do what the world needs it to.
- View the process for what it is: a process. The truth is, this shit is just part of what it is to be an author. This is why so few people actually make it through to publishing their books. It’s friggin’ hard! It’s hard to hear all the reasons you’re not a good fit, why your book doesn’t meet the needs of a pipeline, or that your content doesn’t speak to a certain publisher’s core reader. That might be exactly right, which doesn’t mean your content is bad or that you are wrong, it means there is a better partner out there for you. And there is! You just have to keep working the process.
- Remember, rejection happens to the best of the best. Keep these facts in your back pocket to pull out on a rainy day: Stephen King was rejected more than thirty times before he landed his first publishing deal with Doubleday. He has since published more than 50 novels, 200 short stories, and has an estimated net worth of $400m. Similarly, J.K. Rowling was rejected by twelve publishers before she was picked up by Bloomsbury and given an advance of £1,500. She is now the wealthiest woman in Britain with a £1 billion fortune. Other most-rejected titles include The Help, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and more.
I know I just gave you all the best ways to look at rejection and all the reasons why it can be good, but I promise you, I’m not an idiot. I know you’ll cry over it; you’ll mull over a lot of it, and you may even have an identity crisis or two. The key is remembering that it’s important to grieve when you hear a “no” but it’s equally important to keep it in perspective. I mean, without that very first rejection, I might be living a very confusing life with a washed-up TV actor and our herd of goats we’re forced to milk daily to feed our voracious addiction to feta cheese. You too have rejections in your rearview that likely saved you from bad partnerships and big failures. But that doesn’t matter now—what matters is your future. Although your future likely contains more rejection, it definitely contains major success, as long as you just keep pushing.
Written by our founder, Alee Anderson. Click HERE to learn more about her writing journey and career.
Photo credit Jimi Anderson @jimiandersonphotography