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Devourer of Words 018: They Just Said No

Marc Bernardin

If you’re a writer who doesn’t publish her or his own work—and your last name won’t guarantee sales in the hundreds of thousands—there is a very good chance that, at some point, your ideas will fall of deaf ears. Rejection is a part of the writers’ life and the sooner you come to terms with it, the better.

Everyone will hear the word no, but the thing to remember that, though it might sound bleak, no doesn’t automatically mean the end of the line. It all depends on how you respond to it.

DON’T: Get angry.

You are absolutely allowed to be angry, but keep it to yourself. Anger can be a good tool, can serve as nitrous to the writing process and motivate you to step up your game. But it has no place in any correspondence—either in person or “on paper.” Tantrums won’t ever get you anywhere. Instead, be as pleasant as you possible can.

DO: Ask why.

The best part about rejection is that it can help you get better. It’s a tool, but only if you use it as such. Ask what about the pitch didn’t work—where it fell flat, what it was missing. You could also ask where in the approvals process did it get bounced—information that could lead you towards diagnosing the tastes of the ultimate tastemaker. All information is good information, so long as you’re levelheaded enough to use it.

DON’T: Retreat.

There is a tendency to recoil when you’ve been rejected. Like a snail getting jabbed in its most tender part, we just want to curl up inside our shell and stay there. This would be the wrong time to do that. Instead, hit that editor back with something new—making sure, of course that you’ve taken to heart the reasons why they turned down the last thing. You want to prove that you have the capacity to learn and adjust, to take criticism and incorporate it, and—even more importantly—that a setback doesn’t incapacitate you. Like Rocky, you will keep coming back for more.

DO: Look hard at the material.

Was the problem your pitch or the material itself? Was it ready to be pitched, or did it need more time to bake? Is it something worth spending more time on, or should you move on to something else? If you ultimately come to the conclusion that there’s still life in the idea, then hammer away at it. Don’t be afraid to take it apart and see if you can re-engineer it. And, it’s entirely possible that the place that said no wasn’t the right place for the project. Conversely, if you decide to move on, do so—and don’t be afraid to strip-mine it of anything useful for something else. We use every part of the buffalo around here.

Here’s the lesson to remember: far better writers than you have been rejected far more often. In success, you will be able to look back fondly at the people who’ve said no. But to get to that success, you’ve got to power through the failures.

Marc Bernardin’s Devourer of Words appears the third Tuesday of every month here on Toucan!