Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Value of Rejection

I tried out for EVERYTHING in high school- school plays, sports, cheerleading, choir, debate team, class president. Anything and everything I wanted to try, mom cheerfully drove me to the audition and waited while I fell on my face ... because I'm tone-deaf, phobic about public speaking and have the physical agility of a ham-strung moose.

My grandparents, even my Dad, suggested that maybe Mom should discourage me from auditioning so often because it was hard for them to see me fail in so many public and spectacular ways. But Mom told them, "This is a learning experience. This is what will help her find her way in life."

And it did. I learned that I wouldn't always get what I wanted the minute I wanted it. I learned to have a reasonable expectation of my talents, instead of being told all of my life that I am a "star" and people who don't understand that are just jealous of my world-rocking talent. I learned that my world wouldn't collapse if I heard the word, "No." I learned what I was really good at, and it wasn't singing, public speaking or activities that involved hand-eye coordination.
I learned to appreciate the successes I did have, and to value constructive criticism.

And it's paid off. In the publishing world, new writers get rejected. A LOT. In fact, I'm convinced that the words, "new author" spark a Pavlovian "no" response deep within the cortex of agents and editors everywhere. I sent query letters for my book series to about 70 agents. I was sent polite but firm rejection letters by a large majority of them before anyone expressed any interest. If I was easily discouraged or expected immediate success, I would have given up and lamented my unrecognized genius for the rest of my life. Instead, I stuck with it and my fabulous agent, Stephany, has brought me to a level of succcess I never expected.

Don't get me wrong. Rejection sucks. It stings. It sews doubt and reaps nuerosis. My friend BB is going through it now as she queries agents for her first novel. And I'm on the sidelines, cheering her on because I know what it's like to open your email with one eye and scan new messages for words like, "Thank you, but" or "not for me" ... or "cease and desist." BB handles it well, faithfully logging her responses in a color-coded chart that I find both impressive and terrifying.

Rejection is a refining experience. It helps slough off your weak areas and find your strengths. It teaches you, cradles you, sends you into the fetal position under your desk with a bottle of cheap wine. It's a valuable tool in any master writer's kit.

But seriously. It really sucks.