Rejection. As much as we’d like to deny it, rejection is a part of most writers’ lives. Rejection can come from agents, from editors, from reviewers and even from potential readers. A booksigning where customers walk by, possibly chat with us but don’t buy a book is a form of rejection, isn’t it? While there are many forms of rejection, they all have one thing in common: they hurt. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Having someone say our story, which is after all a part of us, isn’t ready for publication or – in the case of bad reviews – should never have been published is painful.
So, how do we cope with it? Besides eating a pound of chocolate, that is. That’s where SARAH comes in. Who’s SARAH, or more precisely, what is SARAH? You’re probably familiar with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s On Death and Dying, the book that first introduced the idea of the five stages of grieving. Further research indicated that it’s not only people who are facing either their own mortality or that of a loved one who experience the five stages. Any traumatic experience can trigger them. I would argue that being rejected is traumatic, because it’s the death of a dream.
If we want to survive rejection, it’s important to understand the stages, then identify coping devices that will help us through each stage. Let’s begin.
Understanding Those Oh, So Critical Stages
We’re all writers, so I’m sure you realized that the fact that I capitalized SARAH means it’s an acronym. It is indeed. The five stages of dealing with rejection are:
No matter how often we remind ourselves that rejection is a fact of life, we’re never truly prepared for it. That’s why we find ourselves in Shock. The important thing to remember about Shock is that a person who’s experiencing it may exhibit unpredictable and irrational behavior. This is probably the most dangerous stage, since we’re not in full control of ourselves.
Next comes Anger. It’s only normal to be angry. How could that agent/ editor/ reviewer – you fill in the blanks – say something like that? Don’t they know that my story is the most beautiful piece of prose in the English language?
Eventually Anger fades and is replaced by Resistance. Some refer to this stage as Denial. In it, our energy is still diverted, because even though we don’t want to think about it, the rejection is hanging over us, sapping our creativity.
Acceptance is the first positive stage. In it we admit that yes, we were rejected, but the world didn’t end.
And then comes Hope. This is where we tell ourselves it will be different the next time. The next editor will love this manuscript. And if that doesn’t happen, there’s always another story. At this point, the pain has faded and we’re ready to resume our normal lives.
Things You May Not Know About SARAH
There are two important things to know about the five stages of SARAH. First, the speed with which people progress through them varies. Some will race through the first three quickly, spending little time in Acceptance as they make their way to Hope. Others will remain mired in one of the early stages and never reach Hope.
The second thing to know is that progress isn’t necessarily linear. Although you may have reached Resistance or one of the later stages, it’s possible that a new event will trigger backsliding and you find yourself back a stage or two. Don’t let this upset you. It happens. The key is to know how to cope with each stage so that you’ll be able to reach Hope.
So, let’s talk about coping techniques. As I said before, chocolate is always helpful, but it has some downsides, including weight gain, so I advise using it in moderation. There are, however, other things you can do during each stage.
When You're in Shock
Fortunately Shock does not normally last too long. The key here is to stay away from your computer and your phone. The last thing you need is to send the agent or editor a nasty note when you’re in shock. Remember that irrational behavior is a hallmark of this stage. Be careful. Be very careful.
When you reach Anger, primal scream therapy and journaling are excellent tools. Call a friend and vent. You might even want to write a letter to the person who rejected you, explaining how totally misguided and incorrect the rejection was. As soon as you’ve written the letter, delete it, burn it or shred it. Under no circumstances should you send it to the rejecter. That’s career suicide.
Dealing with Resistance
I’m a firm believer in exercise. A brisk walk, even house cleaning (shudder!) releases endorphins, those wonderful feel-good substances. That’s why exercise is an excellent way to deal with Resistance. So, too, is reading. Escape into a book by one of your favorite authors. You can always claim you’re doing research, but the truth is, you’re helping yourself get through Resistance.
Do you keep a file of positive affirmations? You should. Whether it’s a favorable review of a published story, your critique partner’s praise or simply a compliment someone paid you, you should store it somewhere easily accessible. Reading those affirmations while you’re in Acceptance will help you on the path to Hope. So too will what I call “a trip to the post office.”
Edging Toward Hope
Even before you send the manuscript out the first time, you should have a backup plan just in case your submission is met with rejection. That backup plan is a prioritized list of other agents or editors who might be interested in that particular manuscript. As soon as you’ve passed through Shock, send the manuscript to the next person on the list. (I know I’m dating myself, but when I started writing, that involved a trip to the post office. Now a submission is usually as simple as email.) Getting the manuscript out to another agent or editor is the second most important step you can take to reach Hope.
So, what’s the most important step? Always be working on your next project. (Did the bold italics tell you I think this is critical? It is!) If you’re in the middle of your next project, your attention is focused on it rather than the manuscript that was rejected. That doesn’t stop rejection from hurting, but it does mitigate the pain and shorten the time to reach Hope.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line of all this is simple. If you let rejection by others defeat you, you’re admitting that they’re right. They aren’t. Don’t ever, ever, ever stop believing in yourself. You are unique. You see the world differently from everyone else. You have a story to tell. You are a writer!