Dealing with rejection is part and parcel of being a writer. The stories are legion.
JK Rowling rejected by 52,000 publishers. Donal Ryan rejected by 230,000 publishers, including Ireland’s Own. James Joyce self-publishing and then buying up all the copies with a loan from his brother and then ‘giving’ them away for glasses of white wine. Yada yada.
So that makes it all okay, like. Once you know that, sure, you’re home free. You’re cladded in an impregnable armour. You ride forth on the trusty steed of your genius, with the shield of optimism in one hand and the sword of success in the other.
You’re only delighted when one of your writer friends wins a competition that you were cock sure you had in the bag. Thrilled. Over the proverbial, with the cow. You dash off a Facebook message or a text to your (ever-so shocked, humble, ‘can’t believe it’, and not-gloating-in-the-least) ‘friend’ and then you crawl out into your back garden to slink under a snail and lick up its slime with a liberal dose of salty self-pity for a week or so, or until it gets too cold and you have to watch some meaningless TV show or a match you couldn’t give two fucks about because you are never going to write again, anyway, that’s for sure.
And so surprising. It really is.
But it’s a relief to know that you will never never never again submit to any journal/publisher/useless competition judge who only picks his/her writer friends, and it’s all a con anyway, it’s all a fix.
Then you get an email. (My phone makes a da da da daah sound of a trumpet which heralds important and welcome news.)
Must be The Stinging Fly with a collection offer. Or Penguin with a five figure cheque. Or The New Yorker wanting to get ahead of the pack making an outrageous bid to secure your next short story.
Thank you for submitting to [insert name of shitty journal that nobody reads who doesn’t know squat about diddly]. While we really enjoyed reading your story, we had an unbelievable amount of submissions so we won’t be using it this time.
But do feel free to something something something you don’t even read because your eyes have welled up with tears of grief and disbelief. How could they? How, in name of all that is holy?
Something something useless fucker who knows nothing about writing, whom you will forever hate something shit fuck off blah.
Back out under the snail. It’s getting restless.
Eventually, (it’s dark so it must be hours later), you extract yourself from the slime and go back to your computer and try to tighten up some dialogue in a crime novel you’re working on that will revolutionise the genre and make you millions. Some dialogue that’s already shit-hot, no two ways about it, but with a little tweaking will be up there with Hammett, Chandler, Lehane and the boys.
Then you get a message on Twitter (you do check social media the very odd time while writing) about another journal accepting submissions so you copy and paste your very best pitch and your ever so slightly OTT Bio and you bang off a submission. It’s a great story, sure, why not? But you’re taking a more realistic approach this time.
It’s all subjective. And Donal Ryan was rejected by 1,237,892 publishers anyway before he bribed somebody.
Back to the dialogue. It really is good, there’s a showdown between your gritty but flawed protagonist and your nasty but complex antagonist.
Da da da daah!
Yeah, right, not falling for that one again. Shame me once…
So you resolutely stare down the phone for an eon of 9 seconds.
Congratulations! You have been longlisted for the Mercier Press Fiction Competition.
Something something you can’t read because you are screaming and jumping around the room. Something else about the shortlist being announced soon.
Somebody who is clearly very wise and wonderful.
And then you (not sure why I chose the 2nd person for this but I’m stuck with it now) are shortlisted for the From The Well Anthology. And then, amazingly, you are shortlisted for the Mercier Press Fiction Competition.
Now, of course, every time you get a new email it’s going to be WONDERFUL news about another acceptance, full of praise and insight. And then another. And another. And this time it really will be The Stinging Fly, or Penguin, or The New Yorker. Silly Billies, why did they take so long? Somebody might have gotten in ahead of them.
And then you realise that you will never, Never, NEVER receive another rejection email again. Ever. Imagine that? Nor another silence from a competition. Because that’s how it works.
And when some other writer (who can’t string two words together but looks great/is confident/knows (or blows) the right people) wins some massive award or prize or whatever, you won’t be in the least envious.
And when one of your friends has a story (and it’s an okay story, like, but not, you know, that good) accepted by a journal that rejected you, it’s fine. Totally fine. Nooo probs. Good for them, you’re pleased, really. You dash off another congratulatory Facebook message or text to prove it.
Great, isn’t it? What’s all the fuss about? This writing business is a walk in the park. Easy peasy, like. Should have taken it up years ago.
Da da da daah!
Postscript: The best book I’ve read about rejection and jealousy in writing and writers is Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott (Anchor Books, 1995). In fact I would recommend it for anybody interested in any creative endeavour. She references a poem by Clive James called The Book of my Enemy Has Been Remaindered. It’s brilliant and funny and available by clicking here.
* Stolen/borrowed from Jon Ronson’s brilliant book title, of the brilliant book: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed (Riverhead Books, 2015)