Tag: rejection

From The Vault: PT: Handling Rejection

This is as relevant today as it was five years ago. Also, I’ve been running this blog for over five years. Yikes.


I'll be watchin' you!

Maybe you got a letter. It could be something you received electronically. One way or another, a submission or entry upon which you’ve spent time and energy has been rejected. Now, I’m not talking about receiving constructive criticism. That’s always a good thing to get. Iron sharpening iron and all that. What I’m on about is the cold shoulder, either in the form of a bland photocopy of a generic letter or a complete and total lack of recognition for your efforts. It’s like fancying yourself a comedian, telling a joke and waiting for the laughs which never come. It breaks the heart and erodes the soul.

If you’re anything like me… well, you might need a shave. But in terms of this sort of thing, after a few rejection letters or seeing a publication for which you wished to contribute which doesn’t include what you sent, you probably went back over your submission with a fine-toothed comb. What did I do wrong? What could I have done differently? The questions inevitably leave to negative emotions. Maybe you’ll feel put out by the rejection, thinking your work isn’t good enough. There could be some frustration at the difference that ended up existing between what you envision and what you submitted. And maybe getting rejected for whichever time you’ve just been brushed off just pisses you off.

Good.

You will learn by the numbers! I will teach you!

Not to re-tread old ground, but I’ve said over and over that negative emotions do not need to lead to negative outcomes. There a lot of things you can do with your feelings. One thing you should not do, however, is sit on your ass. There’s work to be done.

Pop the hood on your work. Strip out parts that rattle or shake. In other words, take a look at your creation and figure out the parts that work. Maybe you have a character or two that really connect with readers, or you’ve gotten some feedback telling you that a particular passage really hammers home the good things about your writing. Maybe there’s that one shot in your portfolio that really jumps off the page.

What about it works? Why does it connect while the rest of the work falls away? Step back and examine the situation, the environment and the construction of the parts that work. Once you recognize what makes those portions successful, strip out everything else and rebuild the work around that core of goodness. This might mean you only need to make a couple small changes, or it might mean you need to all but start from scratch. Don’t fret, though: declaring a do-over could very well be a step in the right direction.

Cocoa

One thing you don’t want to do is rush. There’s no need. Take a deep breath. Make some cocoa. Instead of tearing down what you’ve done and smashing it around with a wrecking ball, lay it out and take a scalpel to it. In the course of doing so, you’ll find things that you’re proud of in spite of the rejection and you’ll also likely find something that makes you smile and shake your head in that “What the hell was I thinking?” sort of way.

It might also be the case that you can’t bear to look at the project that’s been so callously rejected. That’s understandable. But you still have a bunch of bad feelings that need to get vented. You have the old stand-by responses of games, movies, booze and cocoa but the best thing to do, in my opinion and experience, is to do something in the same creative vein to get you thinking about what your next step will be. It could be back to what caused you to feel this way or it could be in a new direction entirely. You won’t know, however, until you take that step.

Whatever you do, no matter how many things you find wrong with your work, no matter how much cocoa you drink, no matter how many rejections you’ll have to deal with in the future, don’t give up. You’re trying to do something new and different. Creative people are inevitably going to face a great deal of opposition because the environment out in the world is one where creativity is seen as a secondary concern to efficiency or profitability, if creativity is acknowledged at all. You want to be fast in your process, efficient in your use of energy, but it can be difficult to bang out work promptly if you’re wrestling with bad feelings or unsure of where to go next. Don’t worry about that. Worry about getting from bad to good first. Then worry about getting things out quickly.

Don’t quit. Especially if your ideas and the need to express them get you out of bed in the morning and motivate you to expend your time and energy of turning them into reality. Screw the rejection and the idea that your creativity doesn’t matter because it doesn’t help you file TPS reports more efficiently.

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Harold Whitman

Drinking your cocoa from a mug of Shakespearean insults doesn’t hurt, either.

Throwback Thursday: The Fine Art of Selling Yourself

Technically, this is a From the Vault entry. But it’s Thursday! So let’s call it Throwback Thursday instead, just to mix things up. I’ve been running this blog for over five years now. This is an entry from the very early days. Enjoy!


Mario selling IT on the Jersey Turnpike (Zero Punctuation)

So you’ve written the next great American novel, or at least a Twilight-killer. It sits pristinely on your desk or hard drive and you can’t wait to get it into the hands of the public who are hungry for something new and interesting to take them away from the dark soul-draining mire of everyday life, spinning your words into gold. But there’s something you need to do first.

You need to sell yourself.

Now I don’t mean that it’s time to pull on the fishnet stockings and hit the streets of the nearest slum. No, I mean you need to send the right queries to the right people.

Would You Buy This?

I might go into more detail and give examples on what not to do in a query letter in another Thursday post, but suffice it to say that the old adage of KISS applies – Keep It Simple, Stupid.

  • Open with a hook. Introduce a character or situation that you think will drive the work.
  • Give a synopsis of the plot. Let the reader of your query know what they’re in for in general, but don’t give away all of your twists & secrets.
  • Thank them for the time they’ve taken to read the query.
  • Offer them an outline and sample chapters if you’re pitching a book.
  • Let them know you’re looking forward to a prompt reply.

Again, I’ll elaborate on these points at another time. Let’s talk about where these queries are going.

The Knife Guy

I have an old edition of the Complete Guide to Novel Writing, and one of the authors describes agents as “knife guys.” Basically, the agent’s job is to cut through the slush piles and red tape of publishing houses, going right to the heart to someone they know on the inside who can help your work see print.

Finding an agent is the most expedient way to get your work published. And by most expedient, I mean that if you get your work accepted, an agent will be more prompt in responding to you than a publisher will be, in most cases. This is because an agent is part writing partner and part mercenary. They understand your need to express yourself and tell your story, and they’re willing to do your dirty work if you pay them enough, usually on commission from your advance & sales. If you win, they win. I’d advise going this route, even though I myself have had zero success in hooking one. Though it has occurred to me I might be fishing in the wrong pond.

Go to the Source

You can, if you prefer, send queries directly to the editors at publishing houses. While this means you don’t have to share your spoils with an agent, it also means it’s much harder for your work to stand out. An agent tends to work face-to-face with publishers, whereas your query letter is one of quite a few that flood into publishing houses on a regular basis.

However, a work that is unique enough or fills a void a publishing house is hungry for might survive the bucket of swamp run-off that is your typical slush pile. Your mileage will vary depending on your genre and the nature of your work. While nobody else on the planet can write exactly in your style on the subject you’ve decided to work with, there might be enough similarities between you and another author that the recipient might decide neither are worth an investment.

Don’t Give Up

Sending queries is a long, thankless, and depressing process. You’re facing entry into a field of entertainment that is crammed with both existing authors looking to continue their careers and new talent frothing at the mouth to get noticed. Know this: you are going to get rejected.

Maybe you’ll get lucky and get a letter of interest within the first wave of your queries. But it’s more likely that you’ll get a bunch of form letters saying that your work isn’t quite what they’re looking for and thanking you for your effort. Try not to think of it as a reflection on your work, but rather an increase in your chances of getting a positive response.

Another book I own, I believe it’s What Color Is Your Parachute? says something about the interview process that applies to sending queries. Your responses are going to look something like this:

NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO YES

That “Yes” will make the mountain of rejections disappear so fast it will make your head spin.

Do It Yourself

You could always try to publish your book yourself, but this is an expensive and time-consuming process and you’re better off writing instead of going through it. Even if it’s just writing & sending more query letters.

From the Vault: Handling Rejection

I used to do a regular feature I called “Pen Training”, or “PT” for short. In lieu of anything else, as I’m running behind and did not write up a post beforehand like smart people do, here’s a quick look into what I was yammering on about three years (!) ago in this very blogspace. Enjoy.


I'll be watchin' you!

Maybe you got a letter. It could be something you received electronically. One way or another, a submission or entry upon which you’ve spent time and energy has been rejected. Now, I’m not talking about receiving constructive criticism. That’s always a good thing to get. Iron sharpening iron and all that. What I’m on about is the cold shoulder, either in the form of a bland photocopy of a generic letter or a complete and total lack of recognition for your efforts. It’s like fancying yourself a comedian, telling a joke and waiting for the laughs which never come. It breaks the heart and erodes the soul.

If you’re anything like me… well, you might need a shave. But in terms of this sort of thing, after a few rejection letters or seeing a publication for which you wished to contribute which doesn’t include what you sent, you probably went back over your submission with a fine-toothed comb. What did I do wrong? What could I have done differently? The questions inevitably leave to negative emotions. Maybe you’ll feel put out by the rejection, thinking your work isn’t good enough. There could be some frustration at the difference that ended up existing between what you envision and what you submitted. And maybe getting rejected for whichever time you’ve just been brushed off just pisses you off.

Good.

You will learn by the numbers! I will teach you!

Not to re-tread old ground, but I’ve said over and over that negative emotions do not need to lead to negative outcomes. There a lot of things you can do with your feelings. One thing you should not do, however, is sit on your ass. There’s work to be done.

Pop the hood on your work. Strip out parts that rattle or shake. In other words, take a look at your creation and figure out the parts that work. Maybe you have a character or two that really connect with readers, or you’ve gotten some feedback telling you that a particular passage really hammers home the good things about your writing. Maybe there’s that one shot in your portfolio that really jumps off the page.

What about it works? Why does it connect while the rest of the work falls away? Step back and examine the situation, the environment and the construction of the parts that work. Once you recognize what makes those portions successful, strip out everything else and rebuild the work around that core of goodness. This might mean you only need to make a couple small changes, or it might mean you need to all but start from scratch. Don’t fret, though: declaring a do-over could very well be a step in the right direction.

Cocoa

One thing you don’t want to do is rush. There’s no need. Take a deep breath. Make some cocoa. Instead of tearing down what you’ve done and smashing it around with a wrecking ball, lay it out and take a scalpel to it. In the course of doing so, you’ll find things that you’re proud of in spite of the rejection and you’ll also likely find something that makes you smile and shake your head in that “What the hell was I thinking?” sort of way.

It might also be the case that you can’t bear to look at the project that’s been so callously rejected. That’s understandable. But you still have a bunch of bad feelings that need to get vented. You have the old stand-by responses of games, movies, booze and cocoa but the best thing to do, in my opinion and experience, is to do something in the same creative vein to get you thinking about what your next step will be. It could be back to what caused you to feel this way or it could be in a new direction entirely. You won’t know, however, until you take that step.

Whatever you do, no matter how many things you find wrong with your work, no matter how much cocoa you drink, no matter how many rejections you’ll have to deal with in the future, don’t give up. You’re trying to do something new and different. Creative people are inevitably going to face a great deal of opposition because the environment out in the world is one where creativity is seen as a secondary concern to efficiency or profitability, if creativity is acknowledged at all. You want to be fast in your process, efficient in your use of energy, but it can be difficult to bang out work promptly if you’re wrestling with bad feelings or unsure of where to go next. Don’t worry about that. Worry about getting from bad to good first. Then worry about getting things out quickly.

Don’t quit. Especially if your ideas and the need to express them get you out of bed in the morning and motivate you to expend your time and energy of turning them into reality. Screw the rejection and the idea that your creativity doesn’t matter because it doesn’t help you file TPS reports more efficiently.

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Harold Whitman

Drinking your cocoa from a mug of Shakespearean insults doesn’t hurt, either.

Savor the Flavor of Rejection

Courtesy United Artists

It’s been years since I’ve seen Rocky. I know, as someone who even tangentially identifies as a Philadelphian, I should watch it more often. But I remember Mickey. I remember him training Rocky, talking him up, telling him things about eating lightning and crapping thunder. In pretty much any story involving a fighter, the pep talks are meant to bolster the fighter’s confidence, before they step into the ring to take a few more punches to the face.

I’ve never, personally, been punched in the face. Not physically. Metaphorically, though, I’ve had my share of right hooks to the jaw.

And to be honest, I’m a better person for it.

I don’t mean that in the sense that I’m better than any of the people around me or any of you fine, wonderful strangers who’ve happened upon this blog. I mean that in the sense that I’m better than I used to be. By no stretch am I a perfect person. Hell, there are days when I struggle to just be good, or at least good enough. Good enough to hold down a dayjob, good enough to not suck at writing or gaming, good enough for a wife or my family or my cats to stick around.

This appreciation has come from rejection, and if I continue on this honest streak, I wouldn’t be where I am without it.

I’ve been told my work wasn’t good enough, that it didn’t live up to its promises, that I failed in this aspect or that way. And I’ve improved because of it. It’s tempting at times to let such things overwhelm one’s psyche, to let the negativity wash away potential energy as sure as a skier slamming into a tree or an offensive jab leading to your jaw getting rocked by a counter-cross. I’m not up on boxing lingo, so if I’m wrong please don’t hit me not in the face.

Anyway. Writers. You’re going to get rejected.

It’s the way things go. Even if you go down the e-publishing route, you should pass your work in front of other eyes – test readers, editors, etc. Strangers, if at all possible. And more than likely they’ll call you out on something they don’t like. Don’t shy away from this. Don’t avoid it. Do not, under any circumstances, tell these fine people that “it’s MY work” and “you just don’t get it.” You will not advance as an artist if you clutch your work to your chest, run to your cave, and proclaim that it belongs to you and nobody else has any say on the matter.

You do that and my knuckles are going to itch to say hello to your chin.

What, do you think art is immutable? Do you operate under the notion that once a word is set down, it can never be changed? Is a painter or film director some sort of demigod whose works cannot be approached by mere mortals? Are games quantum-locked in the state in which we find them on the shelf or our hard drives, only changing behind the curtain of a developer’s studios when we aren’t watching them? Don’t be an idiot. I challenge any film critic to tell me that any cut Ridley Scott made of one of his films is worse than the studio’s theatrical release. The Anniversary Edition of Halo is not only a lot easier on the eyes but also helps expand some of the less solid story points of the universe, and in fact does its job so well I have had to re-examine my feelings on that franchise in general. It is a better product than the original, and only because they changed stuff in it. Minor stuff, to be sure, but stuff was changed nonetheless. Change is good. To reject change is to reject the notion that art is alive, or important, or even necessary.

Let me be clear on something before I wrap this up. I don’t think my opinion’s the only one that matters. This is not the word of Caesar being dispensed from on high onto the unwashed masses. This is one opinion from one ultra-geek who happens to have a semi-established corner of the forum to shout from while he’s pelted with things.

But the fact remains. Rejection happens, and as much as it hurts, it’s good for you.

So suck up the punches there, Rocky. Take a few shots to the face. Bleed a bit. It’s going to happen, so you might as well get used to it. That’s not the important part.

The important part is you punch back. You don’t mind the pain. And you get back up.

If you can keep doing that, no matter how many times it happens, no matter how long it takes, no matter how much it hurts or how broken and lost and lonely you feel, you’ll make it.

As Chuck Wendig says, writing (or game development, or art, or anything that involves breaking free of cubicles and TPS reports and HR looking over your shoulder and long-ass meetings) is putting a bucket over your head and smashing it into a brick wall over and over and over again.

It’s you or the wall.

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