Roundtable: Bouncing Back from Rejection and Setbacks
We invited Beth Revis, Deborah Hopkinson, Jodi Kendall, Kosoko Jackson, Leah Henderson, Maxine Kaplan, Melissa Sarno, and Nicki Pau Preto to answer a series of questions about their experiences and opinions regarding rejection and setback. Each question below is followed by the participants’ answers. As you’ll soon see, both rejection and setback are part of the writer life, and even established authors still experience plenty! In reading through our participants’ responses, we hope you’ll find some advice that resonates and helps you push through your own challenges.
8. Is there ever a time when you should let rejection encourage you to let go of something? Can something that’s been solidly rejected ever find a home, or should a writer just shelve the project and move on? What lessons can a writer take from a novel or project that’s been firmly rejected
1. Let’s start with some stats: how many query rejections over how many books did you get? How many submission rejections?
Beth – I wrote ten books over the course of ten years before I got an agent with the eleventh. I subbed each book about one hundred times each, so that means I got roughly a thousand rejections for my work before I got the “yes” that changed everything.
Deborah – I’ve been writing for twenty-five years and have lost track of the number of rejections I’ve received. Picture books require sending a completed manuscript, and it took me about three years (and a dozen or so rejections) to sell my first picture book. A 25th anniversary edition with a new cover has just been released and it is still in print. On average, I get about a half dozen picture book rejections a year, as well as a handful of others.
Jodi – Over the seven years I queried literary agents with six different manuscripts, I received over a hundred rejection letters before four offers of representation came my way.
Kosoko – My query rejections were in the upper 200s, and my submission rejections were about twenty.
Leah – Let’s just say, I’m no novice when it comes to this topic. 🙂 I don’t keep track of hard numbers, but I have had my fair share of agent and editor rejections over five projects (one of which I’ve shelved). Definitely more than fifty.
Maxine – At least fifty rejections for my query on my debut maybe? I stopped counting after forty. Sixteen submission rejections?
Melissa – I queried three books and received around eighty-four rejections total. Two of those books went on submission. I received sixteen rejections for the first book. The second book sold in an auction between four editors.
Nicki – I’ve queried twice: first time around I queried forty-four agents and wound up with three offers of representation — the rest were rejections, with some no replies thrown in. We went on submission to editors and I had around twelve rejections before we pulled the project. Second time around I queried sixty-nine agents and wound up with many more rejections and no replies, plus two offers of rep. This is the book that sold, at auction, but there were about ten editor rejections before that happened.
2. How do you keep from getting overwhelmed as the rejections pile up?
Beth – Honestly? I got overwhelmed. I absolutely did. I lived in that dark place for awhile. But the thing that kept me going was the next idea. If I lived with one book for all that time, trying to make that one book happen, then there’s every chance I would have quit. But because I started working on the next thing, I would start to get excited about the new project. It was the hope of the next thing that kept me going, and if I hadn’t moved on from the first book, I never would have made it.
Deborah – Rejection is simply the landscape in which writers exist. I live in Oregon, where it rains a lot. You just go out in [it] and move forward. Writing is the same.
Jodi – I had to do a serious check-in with myself countless times and remind myself that through this process, I had to choose to grow and not give up. I highly recommend googling “The Gap” by Ira Glass to watch a short but inspiring video pep talk — it helped me immensely!
Kosoko – I focused on it as a business and I rewarded myself. I sent out five to ten a week and for every ten rejections I got, I did something special. I also didn’t really…read them? You start to see form letter patterns. If I could tell it was one, I threw it away. If it had a personalized touch, I read it, and decided if it was something I agreed with, or even if it was something I wanted to change. I also remembered, and this takes time, how subjective publishing is.
Leah – So, I’m not a big TV watcher, but when I need a boost and a little reminder about the sheer joy that happens when we achieve a dream, I’ll watch the first auditions of contestants on singing competitions. I really get sucked in! Especially on ones where contestants either stumble at the beginning, are super nervous or are asked to try another song. When they come out the other side — still standing — and usually wiping away tears, I couldn’t be happier for them, and I’m honored that I got to see a moment when they claimed part of their dream. This may sound cheesy, but for me it’s a helpful reminder of why I continue to push ahead. Giving up would never give me a moment like that!
Maxine – I tried to remember that it’s part of the process. Reading others’ query stories helped. I knew I wasn’t alone.
Melissa – I always queried in small batches of five or ten, so that I could more easily regroup after each batch. If I received a rejection, I would simply query the next agent on my list. If I received a rejection that made me feel I should take a new look at the book, I would take a small break to think about my next steps. After the initial hurt feelings (tears, chocolate, self-pity, [The] Golden Girls reruns), I always tried to stay focused on the manuscript itself — improving and refining it. Sometimes, that would result in taking a big step back to revise.
Being the workhorse made me feel in control. I always asked the question, what can I do to make sure the next response isn’t “no”? I had to be honest with myself about how I could improve my work. Sometimes I wasn’t ready to be honest, but that’s part of the process: being ready to say, you know what…my work isn’t the best it can be, and now I’m ready to dive back in and make it better.
Being on submission was a bit different. For my first book, my agent sent each rejection as it came in. This didn’t work for me. Each rejection would send me spiraling and as soon as I grounded myself, another would come in. That rollercoaster was next to impossible for me to maintain. So, for my second book, I requested that my new agent only contact me if the news was good.
Nicki – This is probably impossible to avoid entirely, but there are things that help: working on something new that you can get excited and hopeful about; sending out new queries when rejections come in; immersing yourself in other parts of your life — writing is not the be-all [and] end-all of your existence. If it is, you’ll be in for a world of hurt in the industry. You have to be able to step away and get perspective. You have to find other sources of joy and contentment.
And if all else fails, look up how many times Harry Potter was rejected, and imagine yourself surrounded with heaps of galleons and draped in a Hogwarts flag, a smug smile on your face.
3. How do you maintain creativity and drive through continued rejection?
Beth – Almost as soon as I started querying one project, I’d begin tooling around with another. It’s hard to feel positive about something someone says “no” to, but it’s far easier to look on the bright side when you’re working on something no one has rejected yet. Also, I’m incredibly stubborn, so if someone rejected one thing, I’d grit my teeth and decide to prove them wrong with the next thing.
Deborah – I think it helps to set realistic goals — and adjust them as needed. When I first began and got lots of rejections, I switched from trying to sell a book to selling a magazine story. I got my first sale that way and went on to sell maybe two dozen pieces, which helped me hone my craft and learn to work with editors.
It’s also important to understand as much as you can about the publishing business. I kept my day job until five years ago. I worked in academic fundraising, and that is another field where rejection is just the way it is. The skills I learned there about doing your research, being a professional, being flexible and responsive are the same things that have helped me continue to sell books.
Jodi – A group of us banded together and formed a weekly “Write Nite,” which was wonderful for support and accountability. My critique group (all women I met through SCBWI) are my rock. I loved taking Inspiration Days to art museums, libraries, bookstores, gardens, farms for a guaranteed injection of creativity. Whenever feasible, I attended SCBWI conferences and networking events, took writing retreats, listened to podcasts, did yoga, and read lots and lots and lots of books.
Kosoko – I only really worked on my debut while subbing it and querying it. I had a lot of false starts on books. It’s true — working on something new helps keep your mind off publishing, but for me that’s really hard. The best thing I’ve found is try to write something completely different than what you currently are querying.
Leah – It’s hard, but looking at other creative work is always helpful and inspiring.
Maxine – Always be drafting or editing something as a matter of principal. I have to trick myself into discipline, so I create policies. This is one. If I’m on submission, technically I know that I have another project to work on.
Melissa – This is hard for me. I often latch onto certain feedback, and it can paralyze me when I sit down to write. Ultimately, I believe in my work. I believe in the stories I tell. I write from my heart and never toward a market or trend. When I do this, I have purpose and intention. I tell myself that if a manuscript never finds a home in other people’s hearts, that’s okay, I always have another story inside me. Because I do. It’s also important to remember: sometimes stories need time and space and we can return to them after we write the next thing.
Nicki – For me, this was when creativity became a sanctuary. Sinking into a new world, a new story with new characters — that was my safe space, a place where I didn’t have to think about that horrible dumpster fire I’d just emailed to half the industry’s publishing professionals, where I didn’t have to worry about stats and rejections and the Real World, which was telling me to get a Real Job and quit dreaming. But writing…that’s where the magic really happens. If there’s love in the actual work of putting words to paper, you’ll make it through because that is the part of the industry you can always control.
4. Sometimes rejections come with praise or encouraging words — what can a writer do with these?
Beth – I suspect I’ll be sour grapes with this one, but…don’t read too much into them. I’ve seen writers get hung up on a single bit of praise. Sometimes it’s small — “I can’t cut this scene, my critique partner loved it!” Sometimes it’s big — “I can’t shelve this book, I had five agents ask to read the full and one of them liked it but didn’t sign me.” Never get so hung up on praise that you lose sight of the story and lose sight of doing what you need to do to make your career work. Maybe a critique partner did like that one scene, but it no longer fits in with the story, so cut it. Maybe you did get close with one manuscript, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t signed. Move on to the next one. Consider them green lights on a street — move forward, but don’t park yet.
Deborah – Praise is rare: treasure it. It’s a sign you’re on the right path. Keep going!
Jodi – Once at a manuscript consultation, a well-known editor wrote me a note of encouragement on a piece of paper. I hung it on my fridge so I’d look at it every day. It took me three or four years after that point to sign with an agent — and then another year before I got a book deal — but it felt like a beacon of light, a bit of industry validation during those years of constant rejection and helped me push through the querying process.
Kosoko – Personally? I saved the praise in a folder for when I was feeling low. It also is a list of agents I know might be fond of my work if this book didn’t sell. Same with editors. I keep that list for encouragement, but also for future books! One of those agents I signed with when I left my first agent.
Leah – Always celebrate even the smallest successes. Praise and encouraging words along with a rejection may not feel like a success, but they are. An editor or agent has taken a moment or moments out of their overworked schedules to let you know your work has promise. That it’s almost there. And most importantly, that you shouldn’t give up. Keep swimming. Use the praise and encouragement as fuel.
Maxine – Take them into consideration when you ultimately have to revise the project that got rejected. It’s free, professional advice — no reason not to treat it as such, if you agree with it.
Melissa – Keep these rejections and hold them close. Star them in your inbox. Paste them on your walls. (One friend told me she compiled them in a list as ‘blurbs’ and I loved that: “I really enjoyed this fast-paced story.” – Agent A “You write beautiful sentences.” – Editor B.) Remember them when you’re about to give up or, more importantly, when you’ve moved on to your next project. An agent or editor who writes with kindness, thoughtfulness, and professionalism, is someone you want to work with, even if the timing might not be right at the moment.
I queried an agent who had sent me a kind rejection on a novel I decided to shelve, and she ended up representing me on a new project. I remembered the thoughtful, encouraging words of an editor who rejected a YA novel I wrote, and I asked my agent to send a new MG novel to her; she ended up buying two of my books. When someone takes the time out of his or her busy day to write a thoughtful and encouraging note, it means you made a connection, however small, and you never know where it may lead in the future.
Nicki – Weave them into a blanket to keep you warm at night. 🙂 But seriously, sometimes these small kindnesses can make your day — your week — and be a source of encouragement during a rough spell. Beyond that…take note of the agent’s or editor’s names for the future. You never know.
5. How do you keep from being stricken with anxiety over bad news or dry spells?
Beth – You need to fill your life with either good art or bad art. The good art will inspire you to reach to higher heights. The bad art will remind you that you can do better than that. Depending on my funk, I’ll either read books by brilliant authors I utterly respect so that I can be hopeful about emulating that level of beautiful art, or I’ll read trashy books that are the equivalent of straight sugar to make me feel better about what I do. I have written some of my best work because I was inspired by the beautiful prose of people like Carrie Ryan, Laini Taylor, or Lauren DeStefano. And I’ve crafted some of my best plots because I read some dumb books where the ending was solvable on page one.
Deborah – Work. Come up with a new idea. Also, I like to use rejections to look again at my story and see if I can approach it a different way. In one case, a rejection turned into an acceptance two years later.
Jodi – This is still so hard for me. Even after publication, there are new things to be anxious about…bad trade reviews, poor book sales, low attendance at events, for example. Dry spells can continue (writing my second book was especially difficult for me). Trust me, if you’ve ever felt afraid of being sub-par to your creative peers, that your ideas will never be original enough, that your characters are cardboard, everyone thinks you’re a failure, and despite your bleary-eyed all-nighters, industry knowledge, and genuine attempts to grow in your craft that you don’t have what it takes to become a published author, I’m here to offer you a virtual hug and say that I’ve been to that dark place and sometimes fear swallows me back in. When I’m feeling down about my writing life, I use the Headspace meditation app, I take the dog for a walk, I spend time with my husband and kids, I get outside. I go to the library or a bookstore. I read a book and remember the tremendous beautiful power of stories. I take an inspiration day somewhere like an art museum. I might put aside one writing project and try writing another. I call a friend. I go to the gym. I practice the banjo. I watch a Mel Robbins video. I turn off social media and focus on my mental health, and when I’m ready to be brave again, I step back into my author shoes.
Kosoko – I take breaks. I think anxiety and bad moods are part of the game. You have to learn how to go through them, not ignore them. Breaks are not a sign of weakness and understanding that you are more than your books, helps. I think this is something people have to learn by doing.
Leah – I do something I love or surround myself with people who love me. Sometimes a breath away is needed. I’ve also been known to hop on a plane or two to explore someplace new.
Maxine – If I find a foolproof method, I’ll let you know. I’m still working on that. My feeling is that I need to find ways to be nice to myself that doesn’t feel self-destructive. Cultivate friendships and have other things in your life. Anxiety is anxiety, no matter what is causing it.
Melissa – Being a writer is a part of my identity, but it is not the whole of me. I am a freelancer, a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend, and so much more. I find joy in music, books, plays, hiking, running, baking, cooking, and taking photos. When the “business” of writing overwhelms me, when the words aren’t flowing, I become who I am, and I am more than a writer. So are you.
Nicki – I think sometimes you have to let yourself feel it. There are things worth being sad or anxious over, and trying to blow past them doesn’t always work. I often find things like bad news — or even something you’re expecting like an edit letter — can make you feel something akin to grief, and you just have to go through the stages every time to make it out the other side. It’s the same with a dry spell. You have to recognize the issue, then let yourself take the break your mind needs to rest and recuperate. You can’t be in constant output mode; your creative well will run out.
6. How do you push through disappointing or challenging turns of events?
Beth – There are a dozen different ways this has been said, but the most succinct is John Wayne: “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” Rejection WILL happen. Continuing on despite it is what makes you a writer. You have to push through. The alternative is quitting.
Deborah – I try to use challenge to motivate me to be a better writer. It doesn’t always work, but it helps.
Kosoko – Querying a lot of agents helped to build a thick skin so I don’t get as upset about things as I used to. I think sometimes a lot of bad news in a row sucks (and effects everyone!) but mostly I try to remember all the good, and that I’m part of a small section of people who will get a book published. That helps.
Leah – Ugh, haven’t quite figured this one out yet, but again, I turn to something I love, and to those who love me, for encouragement and support. There are so many who help to prop me up. Also, helping someone else when they stumble always reminds me that I can make it through too.
Maxine – Have a list. Have a plan. When you get to the end of the list and the plan, make new ones and start ticking boxes.
Melissa – Beyond the usual rejections, my first agent left the business to become a teacher and the editor who acquired my first book left the business a year before it released. Both times, I felt completely unmoored. Both times, I wound up moving on to a new agent and editor, who brought (and still bring) so much to my work, my life, and my career.
Any time something has felt like “the end,” it has actually been a beginning. I push through knowing that.
Nicki – Honestly, I pity the foo — writer, I mean writer — who sails on calm seas all the way to a publishing contract. Don’t get me wrong, I will ache with jealousy, but without struggle and failure and constant setbacks, we don’t learn how to be tough. We don’t learn how to be survivors. The first tiny wave that strikes that author’s calm, easy journey will send them reeling, while you? You’ll cackle with joy as the wind whips your hair and sea spray drenches your skin, ready for the next swell. Since I’m going all nautical in this answer, here’s some wisdom that is not my own: A calm sea never made a skilled sailor. Also: A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for. Get out there and conquer that ocean!
7. Is there any way to make use of rejections or setbacks?
Beth – It’s so, so, so easy for me to say thing now, because I’ve had my dreams come true, and hindsight is 20/20. But here’s the thing: you’ll be a better writer if you live through rejection. I had PILES of rejections. And that meant when I got back an edit on a book that meant I had to rewrite everything, I didn’t weep over it. I rolled up my sleeves and got back to work, because a rewrite isn’t a rejection, and I knew I could live through it. When I’ve had good years, I’ve socked away my money, time, and energy, knowing that bad years were coming. I’ve been able to roll with punches. I have some friends who got their first book published with little to no rejection…and they would be the first to tell you that they were utterly unprepared when the inevitable downward swing happened.
Deborah – Use rejections to learn. Read more. Think about what you’re reading about. Is there a story in your life only you can tell? I’ve given presentations at writing workshops where people sometimes seemed to be ignoring the stories in their own lives, or expertise they had.
I remind students at author visits in schools that Major League Baseball players always start with spring practice. For writers, practice is writing, but it’s also reading. Don’t write a picture book until you’ve read a hundred. Read thrillers if that’s what you want to write. Really become an expert in the field you want to enter.
Kosoko – Some rejections and setbacks have lessons. Some just suck. With time you learn which are which, but the best thing you can do is learn that publishing is a cruel business and to not take that personally, but to also find joy and life outside of publishing.
Leah – We can learn from every situation. Even though it might not seem apparent in the moment, tuck the experience away, because I guarantee down the road it may help you understand something or more importantly, it may help you build your strength for what else may come.
Maxine – Remind yourself that you’re thickening your skin, something you need to survive in a creative field.
Melissa – Rejections can allow you to pause, reflect, and see where you are and where you want to be. Once, a batch of rejections led me to make a large-scale revision that improved a project tremendously. Once, they made me realize I needed to work on something entirely new and I threw myself into a project I was even more passionate about. Once, they even made me, what I call “angry query,” where, in a fit of rage, I sent off a batch of queries to agents that I felt were “out of my league.” One of those agents offered to represent me and is now my agent! There are always ways to take that energy and move forward.
As far as setbacks go, there are a lot in this business. Parting ways with my first agent after she left the business felt like a huge setback for me. I was left with a book I couldn’t sell and I no longer had a partner who believed in my work. I felt like I had taken a huge step backwards.
However, it actually became a fresh start. I started working on a new book, in a new genre. I found a dream agent who is an amazing partner for me and my work.
Sometimes that step back is actually a way forward.
Nicki – Print the rejections. Use them as kindling for the fire of your glorious resurrection (can you tell I like phoenixes?). But in all seriousness, bad reviews and setbacks are a part of this business. No avoiding them. They suck, they hurt…move on. You have to.
If you need a little help, look at reviews for some of your all-time favorite books, and see how many hundreds of terrible 1-star ratings they’ve received. Laugh at the absurdity that these people couldn’t see the genius of said favorite book. Make connection between this scenario and your own. Get back to work.
8. Is there ever a time when you should let rejection encourage you to let go of something? Can something that’s been solidly rejected ever find a home, or should a writer just shelve the project and move on? What lessons can a writer take from a novel or project that’s been firmly rejected?
Beth – Look, just because you shelve a book doesn’t mean it’s shelved forever. You can always go back to it. It’s not giving up to put one book aside and start working on another one. What is giving up is to dedicate everything to one book, at the sacrifice of the rest of your career. If you want to be an author, you need to be able to write more than one book.
Personally, I gave myself one hundred agents. If I couldn’t convince one out [of] one hundred agents that my book was worth publishing, I would write something else. And that’s what I did. And for ten years and ten books, when I got to one hundred, I put that book aside.
I was certain that I could maybe go back and rewrite some of the rejected manuscripts later. I’ve checked them out since then. And…they suck. I didn’t know it at the time, but I wasn’t skilled enough to see what I didn’t have the experience to know. It took moving on to improve, and it took improving to understand why I wasn’t good enough yet, and it took facing that knowledge in order to really become any good at what I wanted to do.
Deborah – Of course! Believe me, my computer is also filled with folders full of multiple versions of ideas and stories that will probably never see the light of day. There’s a novel in there, some nonfiction. You name it. There’s nothing unusual about this. Publishing is a competitive business. Writing is hard. What matters is to keep at it.
Kosoko – I got over 200 rejections for my debut. I also had several people tell me it couldn’t be published. I think the question is how far are you willing to go. Some books are hard sells. Some take a lot more time, that’s just the truth. There’s no harm in saying you don’t want that uphill battle. But if you do, go all in, and know that this story might not be as quick a sale as others. And that’s okay.
Leah – It is okay and sometimes necessary to put a project in a drawer. The important thing is not to consider it a failure. It was practice, a teacher and a guide. You learned things during that project that may be invaluable on your next. No time with those words or characters was a waste. They helped you prepare for the next round. And who knows, maybe pulling that project out again, years or months later with fresh eyes and more knowledge is just what you’ll need to turn it around. I know I plan to take out my shelved project again one of these days.
Maxine – If you get to a point where you don’t know what to do to fix a project and you don’t agree with the constructive criticism you’ve received, I think it’s appropriate to consider putting it aside, especially if it has been completed (you’ve written “The End”) and you have another idea you’re eager to work on.
Melissa – It’s hard to know when you’ve reached the end of a manuscript’s life, and I’m not convinced you ever really reach that end. In my opinion, there’s no magic number of rejections that mean a manuscript is “dead.” I’m a big believer in taking a pause or break from a project, whether that break is short or long. During that pause you can move on to a new project that captures your heart and imagination or decide you want to give your current project everything one last time. There’s no wrong way to move forward.
Once you’ve made the decision to move on from a manuscript, you take with you all you learned about the experience of writing it and that guides you as you write the next thing. Be thoughtful about it, know where you misstepped, and try not to make the same mistakes again (though you might and that’s okay, too).
Sometimes the smallest spark of an old manuscript will find its way into the heart of a new one. A sentence, a character, a feeling. Sometimes you discover the missing piece of a project you abandoned and give it new life. I’m not sure that the spirit of a project ever really dies.
Nicki – Every book teaches you something. I learned so much on the first two books I toiled over for about three years apiece before finally writing Crown of Feathers, not to mention the handful of other half-finished manuscripts or abandoned concepts. Again, I think of the poor, unfortunate (okay, not poor and not unfortunate) writer who sells the first book they’ve ever written, and cringe at how they’ll handle tearing that book apart in edits, or having to potentially shelf a future book. They will be ill-prepared for the rollercoaster of emotions, while a writer who’s been around the block will fare much better.
There’s a lesson I learned as an artist, but it applies to writing as well: there comes a point when you have to let go — and I don’t just mean deadlines. You have to recognize on your own when you’ve been stuck in one place too long. While writing is more forgiving than say paint or pencil, you can absolutely overwork something, poking and prodding and tinkering until you lose sight of what you were trying to do in the first place. Starting something new can be the most inspiring, freeing feeling in the world. And just because you can’t find the solution to a book now, doesn’t mean you won’t later. If the market is wrong — markets change. If there’s a plot problem you can’t solve — give it time, and you never know what your subconscious might come up with. If the concept is flawed — steal characters and settings and cool bits and reuse them elsewhere.
9. Setbacks can feel like the end of the road. How can you recognize the windows that open as doors close?
Beth – Working is moving forward.
Never forget: writing is an art and publishing is a business. You can only control the art side. You can’t control the market. As long as you are moving forward with your art, you have achieved success. It is no little thing to make art. Be proud of that. Recognize that achievement. Your success or failure doesn’t lie in the market, but in the art that you’ve created.
Of course, if you’re reading this, chances are that you also want to be published. Compartmentalize the part of your brain that turns art into business. Study the market, study other books that have achieved the success you want, work on business plans.
But first: art.
Deborah – Every setback is a chance to grow as a person and a writer. One editor once told me, “You have to want it more than sleep.” Everyone has heard of famously successful authors whose best-sellers were rejected multiple times. It’s trite, but it’s true: Don’t give up.
Kosoko – Sometimes they aren’t obvious. I don’t see any closed door as locked. Sometimes it just is temporarily locked. If a door that’s closed is something I still want, I figure out what other path to go down to get it. This helps me stay motivated and feel in control.
Leah – Like I said before, no experience, especially some of the more brutal ones, is a waste. They can teach us so much, and arm us for the battles and victories ahead. But really, we always need to remember to look for even the smallest success in our defeats. If the door slams shut, get your sunshine through the window. You finished your novel! YAY! Not everyone can say that. Or you created a character you love, or a relationship you want to root for; maybe one of these can find their way into a different story or world. Or maybe you made some wonderful real-life friendships as you trudged through the project. Remember the small things. That’s what will get you through. Look for the sunshine.
Maxine – Remember that so much of this is luck and perseverance. As long as you’re still working, you haven’t failed. Ever.
Melissa – I think it’s important to grieve and mourn a loss, so you can recognize the open window. I think we have to trust that our hearts and minds know when to let go and, as soon as we do, we can accept what there is to receive.
Nicki – The end of one road doesn’t mean the end of the journey; you just have to find a new avenue. There’s no single path to publication, no checklist of achievements or qualifications or benchmarks you have to hit.
I found out my first book didn’t sell on submission the same day my agent dropped me — that was a bad, bad day. That door had closed, and I would no longer be a person who remained with one agent throughout their whole career, or a person who would sell their first book on submission. So, I had to pivot and find a new way toward my dreams. For me that meant a new book, a new agent — and a book deal. If those doors hadn’t closed my first time around, I wouldn’t have wound up where I am now.
Of course, it’s easy to see the positives looking back, but while you’re in it, it’s extremely tough to see the bright side and to keep going. But ultimately you have a choice: either keep writing, or don’t. It’s simple, really, and the truth is that you haven’t failed at something unless you stop trying. So as long as you’re still trying, you’re still in it, and your story — and your happy ending — is still to come.
10. What are your tips for remaining positive and optimistic during the long road to publication? What advice can you offer aspiring authors?
Beth – If you stay on this path long enough, you will succeed. Giving up is the only sure route to failure.
Deborah – Just put your energies in the direction you want to go and don’t give up. Find a way of writing that works for you and come up with your own methods to keep yourself going. Some people say you have to write every day, or write before work, etc. Hogwash. That’s what works for them. Maybe for you, it’s to finish a chapter of a novel a month; or to submit a picture book once every six months; or to research outlets for magazine stories. Just make YOUR list and keep working [at] it. And, of course, don’t give up.
Jodi – Do a search for the “Nearly There stage” and Robin LaFevers. Her wisdom ignited my writing fire and helped me press on through the many years I was receiving literary agent rejections. If you feel creatively stuck, another good resource is “The Five Second Rule” by Mel Robbins. Attend a writing conference or retreat if you’re able. Join a critique group and connect with other local writers. Grow in your craft and experiment with genre and POV. Listen to feedback with an open mind. Read voraciously, read everything. Don’t compare the beginning of your journey to someone else’s middle. Write, write, write. Rewrite. Write lots more. Put in the work. It’s not a race and it’s certainly not easy, but remember that all it takes are small, daily steps of courage to put you on the path toward achieving your dreams. Choose to grow and not give up. It might take time, but it’s your time and no one else’s. You’ve got this.
Kosoko – Despite what people say, to me, there is no problem with false starts. Embrace that. Write something that you want to write and though not attaching yourself can feel frustrating, don’t feel like a failure because of it.
Leah – If this is what you truly want, you won’t give up. You’ll study your craft, read widely, sign up for classes or workshops when and where you can. You will find a way to keep writing, and keep going. Remember those singing contestants and that moment where their dreams come true? Be willing to fight to get that moment for yourself whatever the stumbles and setbacks. Happy writing.
Maxine – Remember that the only thing you can control is your writing, your organization, and your continued efforts. Make friends with other writers for your peace of mind, but remember that Twitter followers do not equal book deals. That being said, making friends with other writers is key: you have access to people who understand and people who can give you valuable feedback on your work.
Melissa – I think it’s important to find and keep the joy in writing. Whether that means writing “in secret,” playing with words and sentences, fooling around with a wild idea, or falling in love with books and reading all over again, I think that’s essential for keeping us going in this crazy business (and knowing that the long road to publication does not end the cycle of rejection, it just starts a new kind of cycle). Some people disagree with me, but I believe that if you take no pleasure in doing the work, then it’s not worth doing. Sure, writing is not all unicorns and rainbows, and, yes, the world needs your stories, and sometimes, writing down those stories can be hard or even painful, but finding joy and purpose in the creation is important, too. Always remind yourself that your entire sense of self-worth is not tied to what you create or how it is received.
Nicki – Embrace failure. If you recognize that you will fail, absolutely, many many times…it’s freeing. Failure isn’t the end of the road. It’s a bump. It’s like weather — it too shall pass. Failure is not a permanent state of being.
Fear of failure has ended more dreams than actual failure ever could. I feel like I stole that from someone…