Q: How do you know you’re a writer?
A: You been told ‘no’ so many times you build a house out of rejection letters.
It’s unfortunate that in most of the US, failure is considered this horrible, dishonorable, thing and if you happen to fail at anything even one time, you should be ashamed of yourself and not allowed to ever try anything again as long as you live. And you certainly shouldn’t do anything like try to give anyone financial advice or run for public office.
But the reality is that if you’ve never failed at anything, then you’ve never taken any real risks. And if you don’t take any risks, you’ll never reach your fullest potential.
So what does that have to do with anything?
Well, if you can’t handle failure, you won’t have a very long writing career.
Failing at something doesn’t make you a failure. It doesn’t mean you’re less competent than anyone else. It doesn’t mean you’re less talented than anyone else. It doesn’t negate your past achievements. And most importantly, it doesn’t impact (in a negative way) your future chances of success.
We’re in the business of Collecting No’s.
For writers, failure is even different than what I described about. In writing, failure is actually a means to track your work and your progress. As strange as it may seem, failure in writing is another way to measure success.
Here’s what I mean… If you’re collecting rejection letters, that doesn’t mean you’re failing at gaining acceptances; it just means that you haven’t sent off enough queries yet. You have still successfully created a product–be it a short story, film, or novel–and you are sending it out for people to read. And for writers, especially newer writers, collecting rejections (failures if you will) is in fact a way to measure your progress.
I know it’s not all fun and games and every time you get turned down, it makes you feel like you’re in high school again trying to find a date to the dance. (Don’t even try to tell me you had no trouble with that in high school. We’re all book nerds here after all.)
Anyhow, you will be told ‘no’. A lot. Like 99.999999999999% of the time. Maybe not always in the form of rejection letters, but in every other aspect of your writing life as well. But just for fun, let’s check out my numbers when it comes to rejection letters for short stories.
- 2009: 2 rejections. I wasn’t doing this very long yet.
- 2010: 4 rejections. Still learning the ropes…
- 2011: 16 rejections. Now things are getting interesting!
- 2012: 30 rejections. Hey, I’m starting to feel like a real writer at this point!
- 2013: 34 rejections. Maybe that’s a peak…
- 2014: 39 rejections. Okay, that’s a peak.
- 2015: 22 rejections. Yeah, I’ve moved on to novel territory now.
- 2016: 24 rejections (so far.) Hey, we already beat 2015!
So yeah, I’ve been told “Not right for us” almost 200 times. And yes, it still stings, but getting that “No” letter for a short story is just one of many many ways people are lining up at your door ready to tell you they are not interesting in your work.
And with that said, here is….
An incomplete list of the No’s we collect
- When you submit a short story to a publication.
- When you submit a novel to an agent, editor, or publisher.
- When you try to get your friends and family to pay for your book.
- When you try to get your friends and family to leave a review of the book you just forced them to pay you for.
- When you try to get a stranger to buy your book.
- When you try to get a stranger to review your book.
- When you are at a book signing and say “Hello.”
- When you are at a book signing and say nothing.
- When you are at a convention, but all of the other writers are more famous than you.
- When you are at a writing conference. (Don’t try selling your book to other writers.)
- When you query a book blogger for a review.
- When you query a book blogger for an interview.
- When you query your local newspaper for a review.
- When you query your local newspaper for an interview.
- When you ask your local bookstore to carry your book.
- When you ask your national bookstore to carry your book.
- Every time you see your quarterly royalty check. See it’s not always about acceptance. It’s also about sales.
And that is all off that top of my head. I’m sure there are a million more ways we’re constantly told “NO” or “HELL NO” as writers. But you can’t let the No’s get to you. Keep writing, keep trying, and every now and then, one of those expected No’s will turn out to be a Yes.
What did I leave off the list? Leave a comment and share some of your favorite No’s in both real life and writing!