A guy like me is supposed to say he’s used to rejection. Never popular at the best of times, abandoned by every friend and acquaintance just before high school, fumbling when it came to talking to women even after graduation; rejection is in my blood, right? Well.
The thing about being the right mix of awkward and unpopular is that you learn quickly not to put yourself in the way of rejection if you can help it. If someone starts giving signs of turning on you, you find a basement or a doorjamb and you wait it out like it’s a tornado. You might get hurt, but it’s what you expected. You never asked them to stop. And women? Don’t you have to know how to talk to them before they can reject you?
It’s not as if I never got rejected. It happened plenty of times. It’s just not something unpopularity, shyness, and social awkwardness gave me special experience to handle. What I learned by being a loser is to hide. Invisibility is my super-power, not invulnerability. Being a loser may have helped with my writing, but it taught me all the wrong lessons on how to turn that into a profession.
I got a rejection letter yesterday. It wasn’t the first and it’s assuredly far from the last. Rejection is what happens when you ask someone to pick your book out of a pile of other ones and tell you what they think of the first ten pages. It happens in any profession. We send resumes that don’t get response. We go on interviews that don’t work out. Getting hired is the end of an often long, humiliating process. There’s a difference when someone rejects something you wrote, though. Something that’s hard to describe.
Getting hired for a job is an exercise in perception. Interviews, code samples, psyche tests and the rest are all just tricks people use to try and figure out if maybe you might be good at the job. When they turn you down, they’re turning down their perception of your abilities. You can apply for a job you’re utterly qualified for, but get rejected because you didn’t make the sale.
At first, it feels the same way when someone says they don’t want your novel. It could be the query letter or the synopsis. Maybe by the time they got to reading the novel, they’d already decided it wasn’t their bag. They might have never gotten to the sample chapters. It’s just a marketing problem or the wrong agent, you say, and you send the book out to the next one. Continuing to think that after the tenth letter? That’s where it gets complicated, kids.
It takes a while, but the rejection letters start to whisper to you. They make you wonder if it’s actually your marketing they’re rejecting. Maybe your novel just isn’t any good. Job hunts whisper nastiness in your ear as well, but HR is always one step removed. The editor has a piece of you in his or her hands and is writing on it in red ink that it just isn’t good enough.
It starts to feel familiar. Like the last time you asked someone out and they got a look in their eyes that said you weren’t even on the same playing field as them. It’s rejection that cuts to a soft, exposed spot. You lifted up the armor and gave them the shot, hoping they wouldn’t take it. They did.
Here’s the thing though. All of that? It’s crap.
What I was supposed to learn when I was staying under the radar is that when someone takes that shot, it’s just one person. You think the people who can reliably troll a club and go home with someone, seemingly at will, didn’t get told no about a dozen times on the way to success? They took the hits, adjusted a bit when something wasn’t working and kept going.
Yeah, ok, maybe you could tweak a few things. Maybe your novel turns out not to be something no one wants a piece of. It happens. It happens a lot. Somewhere along the line, it might be time for some soul searching to figure out why so many people said no. It’s not like a lot of books don’t get rejected for good cause. Maybe yours was one of those. Maybe your novel does suck. That, though? That’s all beside the point.
The point – at least for someone like me who never learned to take the hits – is this: Getting punched in the gut is no excuse not to ask for another. If the book is great, if it sucks, if it’s just not what someone is going to pay you for; none of that matters. You don’t stop being single by hiding from women, and you don’t get published by letting a rejection letter convince you to let something you spent a year on sit on your hard drive.
My last rejection letter was a year ago. I decided that I was doing a crap job marketing it and that I needed to rewrite my query. That would have been fine, except that it took me a year of avoiding the thing entirely before I got back to it. I got antsy about being told no again, because I didn’t know how many more rejections I could take before I started to believe them. The answer, I think, needs to be all of them. Soul searching and lesson learning is important, but it’s no good if it’s just another reason to stay under the radar. A haircut and a new outfit might help you get some attention, but it helps less than just asking the next person out.
Get back out on the dance floor.