Friday, January 19, 2007

r.e.j.e.c.t.i.o.n

I was nine-years-old when Cadbury, UK published my first non-fiction story. I used my parents’ medical books and encyclopedias for research; wrote descriptive detail of how cocoa magically transformed into chocolate; and drew colorful crayoned pictures of the cocoa plant and the lithe, dark-skinned men who nurtured them. Who cared that my tale was published across Great Britain—I’d won a huge red-ribboned basket stuffed full of rich creamy chocolate bars!

When my first play was selected to be ‘produced’ by the city's regional arts collaboration, I was barely 12. Yippee-skippee! I got to miss math and chemistry while I 'directed' and 'starred' in my own upstairs-downstairs murder mystery.

I won again the following year, and my 13-year-old-self was overcome with glee as I got to openly express rude comments about our headmistress. You see, it wasn’t really me calling Miss Reid a silly old nincompoop with a broom up her bottom, it was him over there—Sherlock Holmes!

Since this was a ‘bigger production’, I took the smaller role of Watson, and gave my best friend her first starring role as Holmes. (Alas, with the exception of a pompous uniformed doorman and two very strange caretakers, it was an all-girls school, ergo no kissing scenes between Sherlock and the woman who tried to lead him astray.)

Some 20 years passed before I wrote anything else beyond love letters, shopping lists, or business reports. Maybe it was naivetĂ©, beginner’s luck, or simply being in the right place at the right time, but the first piece I submitted was accepted and published in a national magazine. Piece of cake, I thought, while quickly hacking out my second query. And that’s when it reared its ugly head. The thing that human potential experts say almost everyone fears more than death itself: R.E.J.E.C.T.I.O.N.

I was half expecting it. I’d been a corporate manager the past 15 years; I'd studied motivation, communication, leadership, and human potential. I'd taught sales psychology, overcoming objections, reading buying signals, turning around rejection. I knew that for every sale one of my employees made, they’d need to average a hundred calls.

It was business, I knew not to take it personally; I knew to deal with it and move on to the next. But it shook the perfectionist in me just enough that I felt certain I had nothing more to offer and I didn’t write for another two years.

Retreating into the cloisters of the corporate closet, I secretly plotted and dreamed of quitting the bank, letting the door slam loud and hard on my way out. I read every book about writing, or writers, that I could lay my eyes on. Sat through dozens of seminars with some of LA’s finest—and worst. And talked with other writers, well-established and not. This is what I learned.
  • Practicing any art form takes courage. Sharing it with others takes boldness. And submitting your work for sale—for publication, production, or show—takes a whole other level of desire and drive.
  • Rejection sucks … get used to it.
  • Rejection is part of the game … get used to it.
  • ALL writers get rejected … get used to it.

If these 10 writers hadn't got used to it (some 1,500 plus times!) here's some of the work we'd have missed:

  • Richard Bach - Jonathan Livingston Seagull rejected more than 145 times.
  • J. K. Rowling - Harry Potter rejected by more than 30 publishers.
  • Stephen King - Carrie rejected more than 30 times.
  • John Creasy - British mystery author’s first novel rejected 774 times (he’s now published more than 550 books!)
  • Alex Haley- received 200 rejections before publishing Roots.
  • Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen - first ever Chicken Soup for the Soul rejected by 33 publishers.
  • Mary Higgins Clark - received 40 rejections before selling first story.
  • Dr. Seuss - first book rejected 24 times.
  • Louis L’Amour - received 200 rejections before selling first novel.
  • Norman Mailer - The Naked and the Dead rejected 12 times.

Last but not least, legend has it that F. Scott Fitzgerald papered his bedroom walls with rejection slips before finally selling his first story.

As for me, it’s now 8 years since I quit the bank and I’m well over the rejection issue. My first book manuscript was rejected by 30 British, 17 Canadian, and 41 US publishers before I got a nibble. Onward and upward!

22 comments:

deirdre said...

Even the thought of rejection makes me cringe. Ouch. I'm sure there's a very important life-lesson in having something you've poured yourself into rejected and getting up and sending it out again. What courage.

andrea said...

Vicki! Tell us about the nibble!!

This is a post all would-be writers, artists, musicians, etc. should read. It takes a lot of courage to get your work out there and make yourself vulnerable, but once you get a few rejections it gets so much easier. It still hurts to some extent, but I have found that my own opinion of myself isn't as fragile as I thought and I have actually started questioning *their* judgement rather than my talent. :) (And I have heard that there is a level of narcissism that is actually healthy, so I'm running with it!) Just last week a print publisher called my more experimental (read: better) work 'scary.' Knowing the kind of art he publishes, I took it as a compliment. :)

It's bizarre that you had a carrot-up-her-butt Miss Reid, too. Mine was my high school art teacher. I learned to play her and was rewarded with awards and scholarships for my disingenuous efforts but Barbara, whose work you see over at barbaramakesart.blogspot.com, went to the same high school and was so offended by Miss Reid's imperious and narrow-minded attitude that she quit taking art and it turned her off for years.

It's only 3 1/2 years since I quit the school district so according to your schedule I have 4 1/2 years to start making a living at this I figure... (Please don't tell me you were in the black within the first 18 months!)

Kiyotoe said...

no matter how many times i hear....

"Rejection sucks … get used to it.
Rejection is part of the game … get used to it.
ALL writers get rejected … get used to it."

sometimes i still get that "forget about it" feeling in my gut. Dealing with the uncertainty and the attacks on my confidence is several times harder to deal with than coming up with any "ending" or resolution to anything I've ever written.

but like you said...."onward and upward", i'll always have my blog :)

Pamela said...

wow.... that list is impressive. (but I never was a fan of Carrie... so that one is a 'duh' for me. ha ha)

I've never thought about writing or painting as a career. I still want to be a princess

Ant said...

I think the best art comes out once the artist has been through the rejection mill a couple of times - it tends to give their work that extra raw (and real) emotional shade. You can generally tell when folk have had stuff go their way, and have never had to fight to make it happen...

It's not quite art (and doesn't have the same personal feeling) but my current boss is inspirational in this regard - in proposals, contracts and deals that we try to secure, I'd say about 50% are successful (maybe more than that, now that we're getting better at working the system). Whenever we're knocked back, it's simply a matter of looking at the next thing - another one? Or maybe revamp this one? His reaction is unbelievably positive, and I take my cue from that.

Becca said...

Persistence and practice are the keys in any artistic endeavor - actually, in any endeavor at all!

Wise and inspirational words~ Thanks!

Ces said...

very informative and inspiring Bibi. Thanks.

MSUgal86 said...

thanks for the reminder.

"if at first you don't succeed..."

Bibi said...
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Bibi said...
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Bibi said...

Ces and Msugal, I figure we need all the inspiration we can get at times. So YEAH, onward and upward! ;-)

Bibi said...

Pamela, being a princess sounds like a grand idea ...

Ant, mmm, there's something to be said for 'being hungry' ... striving for something is often more fulfilling than having it handed on a plate. And yes, talking of your proposals, it's that's old comparison of an airplane in flight ... the pilot has to keep readjusting the flight path to keep it on track and reach the final destination. Sounds as though you're getting a pretty good return on your proposals.

Becca, and I'd add another P ... patience! Oh, mucho, mucho Patience ;-)

Bibi said...

Diedre ... it does get easier, and although no one likes it, it pushes you to work smarter. ;-)

Andrea, yes, for sure you have to look at the source of the criticism in any situation and determine whether it's valid and even if it's relevant. Early on, I made the mistake of internalizing the comments of a very bitter corporate editor, and it paralyzed me for several weeks. Months later she told me that she envied me (and ergo, all creatives) ... that she could deconstruct (i.e. shred!) but could not construct (write / create from scratch). Now I know to look at the source and the quality of the source's work and reputation etc.

As for getting started, I'm just a working girl and had no intention of being a starving artist, so I developed a very aggressive marketing plan. It took the best part of a year to pull myself to where I expected to be; and I took all kinds of writing & / or production gigs (corporate / commercial / multi media) until I got established.

I know you're persistent and extremely talented, so be patient!(( Am preaching to myself right now because I need to be patient on a couple of issues.))
;-)

Kiyotoe, it's so easy to let your confidence get shaken. But the decision to pass on someone's work is often more of a budget issue, or your work not being in the right hands on the right day. You know you're a good writer so keep at it!

kj said...

bibi: let me very honest here. i probably read 20-25 blogs a week, all by talented and fascinating folks. but never have i been so touched and so inspired as i am by this post of yours.

we have a bit of the same background, so you'll no doubt know what i mean when i refer to 'time, place and circumstance'. your post found at the right time, the right place, the right circumstance. i owe you a fee!

ok, now i'm indebted to you. that's not a bad thing. i'm on the lookout to pay you back! thanks, thanks

:)

Within Without said...

Bibi...

I thought I had left a comment on this brilliant post a few days ago, but evidently not.

You can see how inspired others are by what you've had to say here about being rejected.

It's great advice and worthy of anyone following in any walk of life and in any endeavour.

:-)

(word verification thingy is wilwwdud; I'm no dud!)

Bibi said...

kj, wow, I am genuinely touched right back, and am glad that my post was in the 'right place at the right time under the right circumstances' for you!

within-without, thank you/thank you for your kind words ... and of course you're no dud!! Must have been a word-verification-thingy typo! ;-)

Anonymous said...

Even when you've been published many times, as in my case, it can still seem like an uphill struggle to get the go ahead on the work you really want to write.

I too had/have "no intentions of being a starving" author!

I have been back to this page 4 times this week and am sure I'll be back again. Thank you for your inspirational words!

peteknowles said...

Amazing how perserverance pays off. Not sure I'd have had Creasy's stamina! Thank Bibi for another great post!!

Bibi said...

Anon, there's struggle in any kind of business. If your product is financially viable/ marketable, I see it as a numbers game. And re the email you sent separately, there's nothing wrong with holding out for the publisher/deal you really want if, again, it's viable.

Pete, yes, and as ww pointed out earlier, that's true of anything worth pursuing in life. I know you've already hit the international jackpot so I'm certain you have plenty of stamina! ;-)

lisag said...

Bibi, thank you for this post. Sometimes you need to be reminded that everyone else goes through the same challenges. Great post.

Heather said...

Wise words and a good reminder. My first book manuscript was rejected about 15 times, and then I put it on a shelf and thought some day I'd find the time to do a little more tweeking and send it off again. "Some day" hasn't come yet. But in the meantime, several other things (shorter pieces) have been published, so I haven't given up hope.

I once had something rejected by a local publication, but then I sent the very same thing to a much larger national publication and it was accepted. You never can tell what will work.

By the way, Andrea sent me here because I just wrote a short post on rejection too.

Bibi said...

Thanks Heather ... and I understand that 'some day' intention.

Sometimes it's good to let things brew a while and go back with fresh eyes. You may just amaze yourself when you do! ;-)