I’m thinking about rejection on a number of levels lately. This post will be rambling. The TL;DR is this: Rejection is more about the one saying “No” than it is about the one being rejected.
Why am I thinking about rejections?
- Creatively, I face rejection all of the time. Every time I send a query or submit a short story, I’m putting myself out there for rejection.
- At work, I’ve had to reject a company trying to sell me something, and faced some pretty ludicrous responses to it.
I’m thinking about rejections because they are a fact of daily life. We all get them, we all have to deal with them. Honestly, we probably all take them personally when we probably shouldn’t.
Badges of Honor
In On Writing ,Stephen King describes a corkboard of rejection slips. Because I’m sending emails, and getting emails in reply, I did the e-version. I’ve created a Pinterest board. No, don’t go looking for it. It’s not publicly available. It’s for me. I call it “Badges of Honor”. And I figure I will keep pinning to that board as long as I’m a writer and facing rejection. I pin the wins (an agent requested more info!) and the losses (a story was declined by a magazine, again). I pin which editors or agents give me good feedback, which ones had zippy turnarounds.
In my daydreams, I think I envision myself becoming wildly successful and being able to make that pin board public. I envision being able to say “This is how many No’s it took me to get to a Yes, dear aspiring writer who looks up to me.”
But really, my ego takes a pin to the swollen bits, deflates them, and then reminds me that this isn’t for anyone else. This is so I can see how many times I’ve faced rejection and survived. This is so I can see my continued forward progress. My persistence. This isn’t about the rejections. It’s about my urge to keep trying, and being undaunted in the face of them.
I send a query a week. I try to send out a short story a month, but I’m a little behind on editing.
But to go back to the topic at hand – I don’t really take them personally any more. I did at first. Now I see that every submission and every query is asking a human being to have a subjective opinion of my creative work. They have other things going on. Maybe my topic is to yucky for them, or my tone too dark. Maybe they don’t think other people will like it. Maybe they prefer protagonists who wear sparkles. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.
What matters is that their rejections have nothing to do with the merit of my work (which may or may not suck – I try to make it not-suck, but perhaps I’m not a good judge of suckitude). It has to do with their opinions of my work – which is their opinion and through their lens of the world. Their rejection of my book is more about them than it is about me.
Please Stop Selling Me Something
I’m trying to evaluate tools for my day job. It would be a big purchase, and I have to have a really solid business case to make it happen. It would make my work 65% easier and faster (I’ve done the math).
I’m asking for all of the places that make these tools to show me what they’ve got. It’s worse than buying a car. Not only are these sales people shooting to close, they are also seeing my employer’s name and hearing “cha-ching”. I have to look at everyone who does this magical wondrous stuff, and then I have to use a process of elimination. Last week, I had to eliminate a company from the running. They didn’t take it well.
They took it so poorly, in fact, that they suggested that I “must be confused” in my decision.
I wasn’t rejecting them as human beings (until they implied I was too stupid to make this decision). I was not rejecting their product as something faulty. It had merits. It just wasn’t going to save me the full 65% of time that some of the other options were going to save me. It also wasn’t going to save any other department extra time – which is part of my business case. I know my job inside and out. I asked them enough questions to know that their whizzamagig wasn’t going to do what I needed it to do. And I’d been hearing from enough of the competition to know that someone else’s thingamajig just might be able to do so.
Just like the agents who email “your book isn’t the right fit for me.” Their tool wasn’t the right fit for my job. That’s all there was to it. It had nothing to do with the relative goodness or badness of their tool. It was a mismatch.
Like a lot of folks, they took the rejection personally. Personally enough to say that I must be “confused” and perhaps not the best person at my company to make this call. (Because insulting a potential customer is always a great sales technique.) I had been clear about the fact that I liked their product, it just wasn’t a fit for me. They took the next step and made it about me personally, instead of about my work.
“It’s Not You, It’s Me.”
I would never say an agent was “confused” when they rejected my query. I would wonder whether I could make my query better (and I could). If I keep myself from taking a rejection personally, I realize that often there’s stuff going on that I’m not aware of on the other side of that equation. I can only do so much to ensure that I make the right impression.
Just like those salesmen can only show me what their tool can do for me, and hope that’s what I need. They can call in experts to show me workarounds for my problems, but in the end, they can’t make the tool something it’s not.
In the end, the person who is doing the rejecting may have a million reasons for doing so. They may or may not share them. (Most of the agent emails just say “This is a subjective process…”) It’s up to us to move on, and keep trying.