The 100 Rejections Challenge

This entry first appeared on Kaaterskill Basin Journal‘s blog, and was written in response to their 100 Rejections in 100 Days Challenge.

Maybe I should start with the good news. My first novel, To Love A Stranger, is coming out next summer from Blue Moon Publishers in Toronto. If I added up all the rejections I’ve had for that novel, from editors, agents, and contests – and if I could pretend they all came in over the last hundred days – I could single-handedly fill up Kaaterskill Basin’s challenge, with some rejections left over.

I’m very glad the book will see daylight, after years of trying, and I’m very grateful to my indie publisher for taking a chance on a book that many people told me was less-than-marketable because of its literary nature. Right now, though, I find myself in a different place, one I’ve never seen before, and I wish I had a road map.

Over the years that I’ve been writing and submitting, I’ve gotten more used to rejection. Short-story rejections (mostly) slide off, now that I know that every story will go out multiple times before it finds a home. (So far, my record is thirty-three.) Rejections of my novel, though, were excruciating. All writers know how much of ourselves, how much of our souls, we put into our work. When you’ve devoted the best of your time and energy, for years, to one project, it’s hard to tell yourself that rejection isn’t personal.

The first agent who read my book told me, in declining it, that it focused too much on “minute” and “mundane” events. I remember the hideous burning, stomach-dropping feeling I got when I read that. Oh, God, she’s right. This book is four hundred pages of nothing. I’ve been working on it for five years. How could I be so stupid?? I remember telling myself, that day, that I was going to give up. Submitting my novel would only result in big doses of pain that I couldn’t handle. No point in trying.

Things didn’t turn out that way. Now, though, as my publisher encourages me to build my reader base and support this first book in every way I can, I find myself stalling out. I tell myself I should be thrilled, but sometimes, all I can hear are the rejections. The reasons why this book wasn’t “good enough” for someone. The reasons why someone felt it didn’t deserve to “make it.” Those words have stuck with me, and they make it harder, now, to do what needs to be done for my work, as it goes out into the world.

Somewhere, deep down, I know the book does deserve it. There’s a reason why I’ve loved it and stood by it for all these years. To go forward, I need to remember that reason. Rejection does stay with you, though. Whatever the old playground rhyme said, words do hurt.

In the end, I think, all of us owe it to ourselves to believe in our work. We need to remember, and tap into, the feelings that drove us to write that project in the first place. Joy. Despair. Love. Heartbreak. Those feelings lit fires inside us and we had to let those fires flame into words on the page. And then we had to share those words with anyone who might listen.

Always, always, our work is worth the time and energy and love we give it. Always, always, it can shine a light on our corner of the world, if we’re not afraid to share it. We can’t ever forget that.

So go out and light your fire. I want to see it.