Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How to combat the fear of rejection

Last night, I went to see Matt de la Pena at the 2011 Teen Author Lecture here in Portland, made possible by the Library Foundation.

First of all, if you ever get a chance to hear Matt speak, GO. He is personable, relatable and funny! I told him afterwards I want to steal all his stories, because they are that good. The audience was filled with teens, which was so awesome to see. It was an amazing event, and I'm really glad I went.

Plus, I've been meaning to read one of Matt's books for a long time, so I'm happy that I now have a personalized copy of WE WERE HERE to dive into soon.

One of the questions an audience member asked him got me thinking, and I wanted to talk about that a little bit today.

A man said he'd been writing for a long time, but he was afraid of rejection, and did Matt have any advice for him?

Matt said something like, even when you're a published author, there is still rejection. Basically, it comes with the territory. Because, after all, not everyone who reads our books likes our books. Sometimes we get bad reviews, and all that fun stuff. Matt said when he was submitting stories to magazines, he made a game out of the rejections. When he got one, he celebrated. It made the rejections easier to take.

I love that idea!

And he's right - in order to be an author, you have to develop a thick skin. But how do you DO that? Here are some of my thoughts on the subject.

1. Separate yourself from the story. Just because they reject a story, it does not mean they are rejecting YOU. Pretend the story is a fruit cake. You are sending the fruit cake out to people to see if they like it. You KNOW some people don't like fruit cake. But obviously, some do, or fruit cakes wouldn't even exist. You are trying to find the person who likes fruit cake. When you get the fruit cake back in the mail, saying, "No thanks," it's not about YOU. The person simply does not like fruit cake. No big deal.

Years ago, I submitted stories over and over to one editor in particular. They were an open house at the time, and I really wanted to work with her, as I'd heard amazing things about her. Each time, she sent me a nice little rejection letter, and I'd file it away. I'm guessing I have close to ten rejection letters from this ONE editor. Yikes. Fast forward six or seven years, and my agent suggests sending my middle grade fantasy to this same editor. Oh no, I thought, what if she remembers all those awful stories I sent her in the beginning of my writing career, and doesn't want anything to do with me?

I don't know if she remembered or not, but she loved the story we sent her, and she bought it. This batch of fruit cake, she loved, and the other batches didn't matter to her.

2. Don't be afraid to fail. Markus Zusak gave this advice at a book signing I went to a few years back. Although, with his adorable accent, it sounded like, Don't be afraid to file, haha. He went on to explain that he felt like he had failed thousands of times writing THE BOOK THIEF. Can you imagine? The award-winning, NYT best-selling book?

Yes, because when we are writing, it is hard and it is painful and we ask ourselves over and over, why are you doing this, no one is going to want this failure of a book. But write anyway. Revise anyway. Make it the best it can be and maybe, in the end, it won't be a failure after all. But if it is, at least you tried!

3. Which leads me to the next point. You will never know unless you try. Are you going to be on your death bed regretting that you tried and got 100 rejections? No. Are you going to be on your death bed wondering what might have happened to that novel you spent years on and never sent out? Yes. Live so you have no regrets.

4. Rejection is part of the job. It's that simple. If you want to be an author, rejection is part of the job description. Every job has an aspect that isn't very fun. Teachers have to deal with angry parents. Maintenance techs have to unclog toilets. It *never* goes away for an author. But the good parts of the job, like getting letters from readers who felt a connection to your book, make the sucky part totally worth it.

5. Life can't be all pleasure and no pain. Working out is hard. Painful some days. But the results - a healthy and fit body, make it worth it. And so it is with rejection. It's going to be painful some days, there's no way around it. But you have to go through the pain to get to the pleasure of seeing a book YOU wrote on the shelves. You *have* to go through it. Just like every traditionally published author before you.

Is the fear of rejection holding you back? Well, go on, submit something. And if you get a rejection letter, I hope you'll pop a bottle of champagne and celebrate. You're in the same league as Markus Zusak now - just like him, you're not afraid to fail!


  1. Or file. Ha! Love that, Lisa. And this is something I'll bookmark and come back to again and again.

  2. I'm not sure I can picture my WIP as a fruit cake--I might have to turn it into a door stop. ;) Couldn't resist that.
    I love the message in this post, though. If we all did nothing out of fear of rejection or failure, there would be no forward movement in the world. Thank goodness you and Matt and Markus didn't let the fear stop you.

  3. Thanks, Lisa. This post and your last post have been very encouraging, and I could use the encouragement!

  4. What a great post! I love how you cited authors that I really like.

    Best one, "Don't be afraid to file."


  5. Great inspiration! We all need to hear this every once in a while. I like fruitcake.

  6. LOVED your story about submitting to the same editor over and over!

    I don't think I've ever been really afraid to fail with writing-- I was mostly afraid I would ruin my one chance if it wasn't perfect enough. Hence, obsessive editing. :)

  7. I rebloggingthe first thing: Seperate Yourself From the Story, because I'm trying to get something published and this is really encouraging to me. Not just to me, to everyone!