It takes a lot of courage to write, and even more to send our writing out into the world. Writers face rejection on a daily basis, no matter what stage of their careers they’re at. When we’re starting out, we worry no one will like our stories. Then we worry our writing isn’t good enough. Later, we worry we’ll never get an agent, or an editor, or a publishing deal. And finally, we worry reviewers and readers won’t like our novels (it comes full circle, really).
At the core of all these worries, is the fear that we aren’t good enough.
No one can blame us for feeling this way, since at every step in pursuing our dream of being an author there’s someone judging us to see if we’re “good enough.” Even those who have made it and made it big have people saying they’re not good enough to be there. It’s a challenging and often heart-breaking profession.
But here’s the part that really stings—sometimes, those voices whispering in our heads are right. Because we haven’t reached the skill level we need to achieve our dream. We’ve moved too quickly and jumped too fast and didn’t prepare ourselves for the hard road to publishing. Sometimes we need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves:
What if We're Not Good Enough?
And that hurts, especially if deep down we know the answer is “no.” I’ve been there myself, so I get it. When I started out I wasn’t good enough. It took me years and years of study and writing and submitting before I honed my skills to “good enough” level.
What got me through the tough times and stacks of rejections was the addition of one single word: I’m not good enough, yet.
“Yet” reminded me that a rejection didn’t mean I was done with my dream. It didn’t mean I’d never get published. It just meant that as of that moment in my writing career, I still had skills to work on before I achieved success.
“Yet” saved me from giving up.
Publishing isn't a one-chance-only deal. If we're not good enough today, we might be good enough next year. It's scary, but think of all the things we weren't good at until we practiced and learned, and eventually got better. “Yet” gives us the freedom to improve without fear.
When that “no” comes in (and let's face it, for 99.9% of us we'll get a lot of “no” before we get a “yes”), here some things to remember about rejection:
1. It’s not personal.
It’s feels personal, I know, but it’s not you being rejected, it’s a bunch of words on a page. How many books have you looked at, read the cover copy or a few pages, then decided the book wasn’t for you and put it down? Were you making a personal judgment against that author? Of course not—you just didn’t click with that particular book. Rejection is the same thing, from an agent about a query letter to a reader with a published novel. It’s the work—it’s not you.
2. Sometimes a rejection has nothing to do with the quality of the writing.
It’s just a person saying the manuscript didn’t meet with whatever requirements had to be met to publish. Great novels get rejected every day due to budget and marketing issues. Unless you’re told the rejection was due to the writing, don’t assume so. And if you do get that type of feedback, use it to improve your work, don’t let it stop you from writing.
(Here's more on Psychological Trump Cards That Cripple Us)
3. It’s good training for being an author.
Even after you publish, you will still get rejected—editors who don’t care for your latest book, reviewers who give you bad reviews, readers who slam your novel. Learn how to ignore the negative while it’s still private and you’ll be much better equipped to handle it when it happens to you as a professional—and it will. Even JK Rowling gets scathing reviews. Speaking of those bad reviews…
4. Everyone gets rejected—even your favorite author.
Bestselling authors have readers who think they’re hacks. Look up your favorite author and check out his or her reviews. See how many one- and two-stars are there and what readers thought. Now remember how much you love that author’s books. See? Different tastes do not mean you’re a bad writer.
(Here's more on Pain, The Brain, Why Rejection Hurts and What You Can Do About It)
We can't control how agents, editors, or readers will feel about our writing. We can't even control how they will tell us how they feel. But learning how to handle writing rejection and feedback is vital if your dream is to be a published author one day—even if you plan to go the indie author route (you’ll still have to deal with bad reviews).
Rejection is a terrible part of writing, but having a reader say, "I totally loved this book!" makes up for it. Make sure you keep those folks around, too, for the days when you need that pick me up.
And remember “yet.” It’ll always be there for you when you need it.
How do you handle rejection?
If you're looking for more to improve your craft (or a fun fantasy read), check out one of my writing books or novels:
In-depth studies in my Skill Builders series include Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means), and Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It). My Foundations of Fiction series includes Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for plotting a novel, and the companion Plotting Your Novel Workbook, and my Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series, with step-by-step guides to revising a novel.
Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize (2011), and The Truman Award (2011).
She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.
She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing, including Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It), Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, and the Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series.