June 23, 2014

Silent Rejections and the Successful Author

Those who choose to pursue creative writing professionally learn rather quickly to expect walls of rejections. “Your work isn’t good enough,” is undeniably a painful thing to hear, no matter how politely it’s actually phrased. Worse, however, are the silent rejections.

The most obvious instance of silent rejection is the lack of response certain agents and publishing houses believe to be a sufficient reaction to a writer’s query, but the fact is, all authors – traditional or independent – constantly face silent rejections. Often, those sting more than the bad reviews, criticisms, or passes. After all, bad reviews sell more books than a lack of reviews, and rejections with explanations allow us to move forward, rather than wanting to scream, “Why??” into the silent void.

Every time a reader visits the sale page for a book, reads the description or preview, and then doesn’t buy the book? Rejection. Someone visits a page with a giveaway, for which the prize is a copy of our book, but that person doesn’t enter? Rejection. Our fellow writers don’t reach out with the same support they expect, or have received, from the writing community? Rejection.

In those instances and more, the rejections have no tangible form, and yet they echo around the author who’s jumping up and down, arms waving, and shouting through a bullhorn in an attempt to stimulate interest in and support for a given work. And in the digital world, with page hits that can be tracked, those rejections have become even more palpable.

In the face of this resonating, piercing silence, it can be especially easy to become discouraged. Like most portions of the arduous climb to (relative) fame, this silence serves as a strenuous test of a writer’s mettle. Unlike the challenge of finishing a manuscript or the necessity of crafting query letters, the trials resulting in silent rejections most resemble pledging a fraternity/sorority; that is, engaging in largely demoralizing activities for the scant hope of making it into an elite club – the Successful Authors.

Passing this stage of the journey requires patience and persistence, as well as a particular blend of humility and confidence. We must remember that reaching the public eye takes time and effort; that rejections, even dozens of them, boil down to individual opinions – to which each of those individuals is entitled; and that no one owes us their time or money. All the while, we guard the kernel of confidence that tells us our work is worth the public’s attention as though that kernel were the most precious stone in the world.

In a way, it is. That little piece of treasure serves as self-regenerating fuel for our journey. It hums a tune in the face of the silence and keeps us climbing. We fail when either that kernel is lost or we become blinded by its brilliance – no longer able to accept humbly the constructive criticisms, or the silence.

There is unfortunately no magic way to survive, or circumvent, the assault of silent rejections. But remember, this test is ultimately just a phase. Each of us may take different amounts of time to break through to the next stage of our journey, but if, armed with persistent patience and a closely guarded kernel of confidence, we do make it through, all of these trials will, eventually, be worth it.

First published on Girl Who Reads, July 2013

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