"After rejection — misery, then thoughts of revenge, and finally, oh well, another try elsewhere." -- Mason CooleyIf you are going to write for publication, rejection is part of the game. Because I'd been writing for magazines since 1989, the rejection letters didn't usually bother me, but there was a time when I didn't handle it very well. No, I didn't write a snarky response to an agent or editor. I just completely gave up.
In 2005, I had sent out a non-fiction book proposal to five publishers. One sent a form rejection, which is no big deal since those are routine. Another rejection was personal and said that books on that topic were not selling at the time.
But the other three rejections were so close to success, it killed my enthusiasm for the writing life. One editor called and began praising the book proposal. "It's well organized, well written ..." He could tell I was getting excited, and said, "But I'm not calling to tell you that I want to buy it." Actually, he did want to buy it, "because this would be a great book," but his company wasn't taking on any new books and he was being laid off next week. He was just calling to tell me that he'd like to take my proposal with him, and if he got a job at a house where they published books on writing, he'd contact me.
The fourth rejection came from a publisher who kept the proposal for several months and then sent me a detailed letter about how it was well written and well organized, but selling it would be a problem because defining the audience was tough. But the letter ended, "I hope to work with you in the future."
And the final rejection was a form rejection letter attached to my proposal, which would not have been a big deal except that notes had been erased from the top of my cover letter. It said, "Check Amazon and then accept." Sounds like I got really close with that one, but there must have been something on Amazon that made them decide against it. I had done a thorough market analysis, but I checked Amazon again to see if I found anything else. Nothing jumped out at me.
I went through the same thing with a memoir. About 80% of the rejections were personal and said that it was a great story. "You should have no trouble finding representation." But no one ever agreed to represent the story. I even got an email from one agent two years after I sent the query letter. She said, "You're probably happily published by now, but if not, send me an email and let me know what you're working on." After a couple emails, I never heard from her again. She didn't send me a rejection; she just didn't respond to my last couple emails. In the back of my head, this little voice said that I must have written something so terrible in one of those emails that she couldn't even figure out how to respond, or maybe she felt I didn't even deserve a response.
I felt so beaten down after those rejections that I quit writing and decided to get a graduate degree and begin a new career as a college professor. But after two years of academic life, I was eager to get back to the real world of writing. And that's where the real story of my success begins.