Not making the top twenty of The Mills and Boon New Voices contest has gotten me thinking about rejection. Rejection and criticism are a part of being a writer. I bet there isn’t a single writer out there that hasn’t gotten some rejection or criticism of their work at some point in time. The question is, how do you handle the rejection and what can you get out of it?
There are all sorts of rejection, some more helpful then others. The least helpful kind of rejection is the dreaded form rejection. For my YA novel I got over 50 form rejections, a handful of personalized rejections with some words of encouragement, and two full manuscript requests. Several form rejections might not mean anything. Maybe you targeted an agent that doesn’t represent your genre. Maybe they don’t have room for more clients. Lots of form rejections tells you there is something wrong with your manuscript, query letter, or both.
For my romance novel, I received a long letter full of comments from the editor. She told me what she liked about my writing and what she didn’t. These letters are rarer. Usually the editor or agent sends one because they feel you have promise as a writer. You definitely want to take that sort of criticism to heart because they’re probably right.
The criticism I got from fellow writers during the New Voices contest is more iffy. Some of them were genuinely being helpful and had good suggestions. Some of them were genuinely trying to be helpful, but had bad suggestions. Some of them were just being catty and mean. So what’s a writer to do?
First of all, keep an open mind as you read their critiques. Really try to see where they’re coming from and if their comments have any merit. If several people say the same thing, there is probably a kernel of truth to it. If only one person criticizes a specific part of your work, and you feel it might not be true, then maybe it isn’t. It’s up to you to use your best judgment. After all, it’s your work, no one else’s.
Rejection and criticism always hurts. Always. It’s like someone telling you your baby is ugly. You never get over it. After a while, you develop a thicker skin and it’s easier to take, but it will always be painful. My best advice to all aspiring writers is this: learn to take rejection and criticism gracefully. Don’t fire off an angry email to the agent or editor telling them they don’t know what they’re doing. Don’t tell the Mills and Boon people that they wouldn’t know new and exciting writing if it bit them in the butt. Keep your dignity. Remember, writing is a profession, so be professional. No one wants to work with an angry, vengeful person!