It’s nothing personal

White rabbitFor those amongst my lovely readership who are following my search for an agent… I received my first rejection email today.

It was clearly a standard rejection email, but for that, it was courteous and kind and it urged me not to be discouraged. In a bizarre way, I was actually quite pleased to receive it, as it broke my duck in terms of agency rejection. Now I know how it feels. What’s more, if they’re all like this one, it won’t hurt a bit. Well, maybe just a bit – but not much. Also it was a pleasant surprise to receive an email, as one is often advised simply to draw a conclusion of rejection, as in, if you haven’t heard from us in X weeks, we’re not interested.

Rejection is an unwelcome visitor, returning time and again in life. It introduces itself in in the playground, where friendships are fluid and children can be unintentionally cruel. It rears its head at the school disco, where everyone except you seems to get a last dance and you feel the sting of being looked right through, as if you’re transparent, in pursuit of a prettier model.

For several painfully pubescent years, rejection is a constant companion. It’s all boys, boys, boys, with their dismissive see you around, or worse still, the casual I’ll call you, ahead of the anxious three week wait and the phone that never rings. Harder to bear today, I imagine, with ever-on phones in pockets. At least back then, we could convince ourselves that we must have missed the call during those few occasional minutes when we moved beyond earshot of the phone in the hall, or when our mothers or siblings so inconsiderately monopolised the dreaded device. And what about the acid-tongued adolescent rejection – the one that brands you as frigid, inadequate or repressed, because you won’t do what all the other girls will, round the back of the bike-sheds?

Then comes work, and rejection sticks its head around the door again. In the 80’s, an era of full employment, I confess I don’t recall much in the way of rejection as I progressed through a succession of secretarial posts. But I do remember I was neither sufficiently cutting-edge, nor sufficiently waif-like, for a position at uber-trendy Virgin Records – one of relatively few knock-backs I was forced to swallow in my early career.

It was when I moved into IT Sales, that rejection and I became regular bedfellows. Here’s where you learn to lean on the platitude that it’s not personal – that the people to whom you’re trying to sell your impossibly complex technology are not rejecting you; they’re rejecting the impossibly complex technology. That thought doesn’t halt the torrent of negative reflection and self-criticism however; because if only you’d seen one more manager, made one more presentation, found the answer to one more tricky technical question, brought one more expert over from the States, put one more tick in one more box… it could all have gone your way, not the way of your competition, who, as everyone knows, are a load of amateurs flogging a box of old rubbish – aren’t they?

When it comes to redundancy, rejection has its feet firmly under the table. You’re supposed to appreciate that it’s not you that’s redundant, it’s your position… But that’s no help as you carry your cardboard box to the lift lobby and everyone on your floor contrives to be in the toilets or out running errands as you stutter your goodbyes through gritted teeth. Two redundancies for me – about par for the course these days.

Now I’m self-employed and rejection, when it comes calling – which, thankfully, isn’t often – is a gentler and more subtle guest; a display of interest or enthusiasm that isn’t followed through, for example; a polite, sorry, but we’re not quite ready to go ahead with this. It’s a kinder world I inhabit these days, and I’m glad of it.

One last place where rejection elbows its way in; I played around with internet dating for a couple of years. Here, I dished out as much rejection as I received in this plenty more fish in the sea environment. Snap judgements were the order of the day – on an ill-judged profile picture, a stuffy turn of phrase, an interest in football, the presence of a dog, the absence of ambition or the inability to string a few words into a sentence. Yes, I get it; maybe there’s a message here. Perhaps the whole agent/rejection thing is set to dish me out a bit of karma.

That said, no would-be novelist goes into the business of writing, blind to the possibility – nay, likelihood – of rejection. It’s a numbers game and there are more writers seeking to be published than there will ever be agents seeking to represent them, by a mind-boggling margin. Rejection is a fact of literary life, and I shall embrace it and take encouragement from something a dear writerly friend has just shared with me: Only real writers get rejections.

14 thoughts on “It’s nothing personal

  1. I’m sorry to hear this, but then again I tend to find people place less value on something that comes easily. When you do get taken up, it will feel all the more special.

    1. Awww, thanks, Dylan. I was sorry too, but only for a moment. I would have to have been absurdly lucky to ‘hit the jackpot’ with my very first submission. It would have been amazing, but I think you’re right, when it comes, I will appreciate it all the more. And hey, this is all part of the experience

  2. I am truly sorry dear lady, and as a master of rejection I know exactly how you were feeling for a bit. However you are a Brit, and knowing Brits as I do you will keep your pecker up and go about what you do and move right along. You told me you were blogging for two years when you got the “call” of being Freshly Pressed. It happened to you as it should have happened. The same will happen with your book and you will be telling us all about it with great joy and we shall receive it the same. Carry on luv, it just was not your time right then. But it will be soon as you are one hell of a great writer. You have all the necessary qualifications in your style, humor, and greatness with the word. It’s just a matter of time.

    1. Another kind and lovely comment, BillP, and I thank you – for your empathy and your encouragement, and for always being so complimentary about my meager jottings. But I know you understand ‘from the heart’ postings. Good things worth having in life are often hard-won, aren’t they? And I can hardly be discouraged by a single rejection slip. I might be crushed by the 20th, or the 40th… but not the first.

    1. …and ditto to you, my friend. You know more than I do about persistence, determination and the work that goes into accomplishing those big life-goals

    1. Thank you! No one attempting to get a debut novel published through the conventional channels can afford to be fragile when it comes to rejection. I think I’m resilient enough – time will tell.

  3. When I got my first rejection for the book I’m working on right now, it really bummed me out for a couple of days, but then I thought – what am I going to do, Just give up on the project, after all this work? They suggested I find a writer’s group, which I did, and couldn’t believe how much it helped. I’m actually glad now that they didn’t accept it in the shape it was in. It’s so much better now.

    1. How great to have been given such worthwhile advice – and to know now that you have a better product on your hands as a result. So what next? Will it be sent back out to agents in its new and improved format? I hope it enjoys the success your hard work deserves, second time around.

  4. Oh yeah. It’s actually ready to go now, if I can just quit tweaking it. The reason for this blog was to take a break from my manuscript, so I could eventually go back to it with fresh eyes. I doubt I’ll ever give up on it. or the blog, I enjoy them both too much.( I can’t remember how many times The Help, was rejected, but it was a lot.}

    1. Wow, so you’re at the same place as me then? Good luck Jeannie! And you’re right, whatever else, this writing business – it’s fun, isn’t it? 🙂

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