The Rejection Manifesto
I respectfully reject your rejection.
I’m trying something new and radical this year: I’m choosing to believe in myself instead of waiting for someone else to do it.
…Okay, that might not sound that radical in the year of our Lord 2021, when Oprah and self-help books and Instagram influencers have been preaching for years the power of positivity and believing in yourself.
But my path to this point has been a long and arduous journey.
I am someone who simultaneously craves validation while pursuing life goals that come with a lot of rejection. The biggest of those goals is to be a published author whose books have the kind of impact on readers that my favorite books have had in my life.
I decided somewhere roughly in the 4th grade that I wanted to be a writer (after winning a writing competition in my class where the prize was two items off the dollar menu at McDonald’s. How could I not be lured in by that kind of glamour?). Since then I’ve always been pursuing writing in some shape or form.
When I signed with my agent, it felt like I was finally making progress. Here was the outside validation I craved — someone else telling me that my writing was good and worth something! Finally!
I thought then that getting the agent was the hard part. I saw other author friends selling their debut novels and figured it was only a matter of time until we found the right editor, the right project, the right moment.
What followed was roughly seven years of submissions, revisions, some notes that were helpful, and some feedback that was essentially “this is good but I don’t know how to sell it.” What it ultimately amounted to was no published novel, and a lot more experience with rejection.
Then I had it — the idea I knew was The One, the break I’d been waiting for. I expected to put some time and effort into it, but I’m not afraid of the work or the revisions, and I thought I’d be rewarded at long last with the dream: Publication. Authorship. Validation.
Then came the biggest series of rejections I’ve faced so far in my life as a writer, which (see above) has already been full of a lot of rejection. My agent decided to leave the business (sincerely, no shade there — we all have to follow our dreams), and no one else in her agency wanted to take me on.
Fine, I thought. I’ll go back to the slush pile. That’s how I found my first agent, and now I’m a much better writer, with a much better project, than I had back then. It should be a piece of cake, right?
Cut to all rejections. ALL REJECTIONS. I had one full request that promptly ghosted me, but no one else even nibbled.
Which begs the question: How can I have gone so far backward in those seven years?
At this point I essentially have two options. I can accept that this project isn’t viable and put it away, go back to square one and try to rethink my options as a writer. Maybe even rethink myself as a writer — because if you’ve been trying something for close to a decade and haven’t made any steps forward, maybe it’s just time to accept that it isn’t in the cards.
Or, I can choose to see this as a reset. I tried doing things one way, and it hasn’t been panning out, so it’s time to try something new.
I can choose to give up on myself, or I can choose to reject everyone else’s rejection and validate myself for a change.
And with that new mindset comes a comforting realization: It isn’t that I’ve failed at traditional publishing, it’s that traditional publishing has failed me.
This book is good. I’m a good writer. I’m always open to criticism and for ways to improve, but I also trust my instincts. I trust that I’m writing the book that I’d want to read, and by extension that if I want to read it then there are others out there like me.
I understand that my writing is high concept and weird, and that it may not be easily marketable. The number-one note I got from editors, after all, was essentially “I don’t know how to sell this.”
I can either see that as a failure in myself, or accept it as a challenge. You don’t know how to market this? Hold my beer. Let me show you what I can do with it.
I’ve always played with the idea of self-publishing, but in the back of my mind I can see now that I was waiting for traditional publishing to validate me, to prove somehow that my writing was good enough, that I was good enough.
All due respect to traditional publishing, but I’m tired of waiting. There are a lot of FANTASTIC writers who publish traditionally, and there are a lot of people whose books might just be marketable. There’s a lot of crap in self-publishing, and — I’m starting to discover in this journey — there are a lot of truly talented writers who refuse to turn over their artistic vision to someone else who may or may not get it.
Whatever path I take, it will be a gamble. Either trusting with traditional publishing that my agent, my editor, the cover artist, the publicist, the company, and every other person along the way will want my book to succeed as much as I do.
Or trusting with self-publishing that my instincts are good, and that my belief in and vision for this project are enough, and that I’ll find my audience, even if it takes some serious work.
I’m not saying I’ll never traditionally publish, but at least at this point in my life, I’m choosing to reject rejection. I’m choosing to gamble in myself instead of others. I’m sure there will be the need for a lot of chocolate and wine in this process, and I don’t think it will be easy, but the first step is believing in myself. I can do this. Even if everyone else gives up on me, I’m going to be the person in my own corner. My own biggest cheerleader. My number-one fan.
So, step one: Deep breath. Take a leap into the dark unknown. And hope.
Update 1/31 — Reader, I did it. I published.
Available in eBook and paperback HERE