Nobody says yes, it seems. There are podcasts about people who, in an effort to change their lives, finally start to say yes. Here is an excellent example from The Moth, a program where you tell true stories from your life. She says yes to every question, and it makes for a hilarious and beautiful story.
But what about regular days, the days that we live where there isn’t a funny story at the end of it? The day where we go to work, go to the grocery store, make dinner and go to bed? And in those regular days, someone tells you no.
No to, “Do you have halloumi cheese? I need it for a recipe.”
No to, “I have an idea to improve my workspace, but I need your approval to change.”
Even no to, “This is my turn to merge into this lane. Would you please make space for me?”
Those aren’t big rejections, but they take a toll nonetheless. It makes a person grumpy, and it adds to this weird baggage we carry with us, as if the grocery store not having the right cheese makes any difference. But the next time you merge in traffic, you are going to not want to let someone else in, because last time, that other guy didn’t let you in.
So if that is a big deal in regular, daily life, what about people who work in the arts? The people who make a living auditioning and submitting? Although, the parallel for looking for a job is definitely clear and not hard to imagine.
I receive a rejection letter daily. Beginning in January, I submitted two short stories and two short non-fiction pieces to over twenty literary magazines and two competitions. Of that, I have had one non-fiction piece published, and there are six magazines I have yet to hear from regarding the two short stories. Everyone else said no.
In April, I began submitting my two completed novel manuscripts to twenty-five literary agents. (This does not count the number of submissions prior to that date) Of those, I have received seven rejection letters, and a whole lot of silence. The prevailing idea is that if an agent doesn’t respond to you within three months, consider yourself rejected.
That’s a 0.02% acceptance rate so far for all of my work. Statistically, Nobody Says Yes.
I think not hearing even a form-letter No (which is what I received this morning) is better than hearing nothing. It would be like walking up to an attractive person, asking that person on a date, and instead of saying No, that person just looks over your head as if you didn’t exist.
But the agencies are busy, and they are the gatekeepers to the Big Publishing World. If you want in that way, this is a necessary process. I don’t want to talk self-publishing now, as that muddies the waters and would make this post even longer.
So what do you do when Nobody Says Yes?
Well, you feel really bad about yourself, for starters.
I think it is a normal reaction, and while self-indulgent, warranted for a small period of time. Small. Because your spouse and your friends are not going to want to hang out with you if you pull the Droopy Dog BS all the time.
There are websites for self-care for depression, which can be helpful, but let’s face it, rejection ≠ depression. They are different. I tried some of these self-care tactics when I first started receiving my daily rejection, but it made me unproductive and stressed out.
There are a million courses and books about creativity that can be fun reads, and good networking opportunities. But you know what? The rejection isn’t about a lack of creativity, either.
A friend of mine gave me a good technique, which helped more than I thought it would, initially. Make the road longer, she said. Expect 3,000 rejections. If, after only 2,000 rejections you get an acceptance, how great is that? You get to be ahead of your goal! It is a mind trick, for certain, but so much of getting through life is a mind trick.
Here are the famous rejections stories, as cited from Writer’s Relief
John Grisham’s first novel was rejected 25 times.
*Katie’s Note: 25 times does not seem like very many to me.
Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup for the Soul) received 134 rejections.
Beatrix Potter had so much trouble publishing The Tale of Peter Rabbit, she initially had to self-publish it.
Robert Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) received 121 rejections before it was published and went on to become a best seller.
Gertrude Stein spent 22 years submitting before getting a single poem accepted.
Judy Blume, beloved by children everywhere, received rejections for two straight years.
Madeline L’Engle received 26 rejections before getting A Wrinkle in Time published—which went on to win the Newberry Medal and become one of the best-selling children’s books of all time.
Frank Herbert’s Dune was rejected 20 times before being published and becoming a cult classic.
Stephen King received dozens of rejections for Carrie before it was published (and made into a movie!).*
James Lee Burke’s novel The Lost Get-Back Boogie was rejected 111 times over a period of nine years and, upon its publication by Louisiana State University Press in 1986, was nominate for a Pulitzer Prize.
They don’t mention my personal favorite, something I learned back in my teen years, when I knew I wanted to be a writer. My family took me to Jack London’s house in Sonoma, California to check out a place the famous writer spent a great deal of time. He received over 600 rejection letters. Some of them are even on display.
In the defense of Silver Linings:
Every rejection letter has been at least polite. Some are form letters, but rarely. Many say things like, “We look forward to more of your work,” or sometimes it is just a “While this is well written, I just didn’t think the story had enough momentum and the plot just doesn’t sound strong enough to stand out in the current marketplace.”
Here are some more horror stories about rejection letters, again from Writer’s Relief:
Sylvia Plath: There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.
Rudyard Kipling: I’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.
J. G. Ballard: The author of this book is beyond psychiatric help.
Emily Dickinson: [Your poems] are quite as remarkable for defects as for beauties and are generally devoid of true poetical qualities.
Ernest Hemingway (regarding The Torrents of Spring): It would be extremely rotten taste, to say nothing of being horribly cruel, should we want to publish it.
The moral of the story here folks, is that rejections happen. Someone won’t merge properly. Someone else won’t like your art. Sometimes, the grocery store doesn’t carry the cheese you want.
But, someone else does merge correctly, everytime. You just need to find that person, and only drive behind her for the rest of your life. (Wait. That doesn’t make sense).
Someone else likes your art. She likes mine, too. Find her. Get her to represent you.
Halloumi cheese exists, find the grocery store that carries it.
What is the operative verb? Find. Go. Find. It.
And that’s the hard part. That’s what makes it difficult to get out of bed sometimes. Finding is hard. But the silver lining?
It isn’t impossible. It just takes time.