The Long-Term Effects of Rejection – No is Never the Final Answer
By Jeff Bowles
Every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.
To begin with, this article is written with the upstart in mind. The midnight worker, the weekend toiler, the writer who’s still slaving away in obscurity, penning story after story, unpublished novel after unpublished novel, and for whom the word ‘rejection’ has become a special kind of poison.
When I seriously started writing almost fifteen years ago–and by “seriously” I mean “cared enough to finish a single story and try to publish it”–I discovered pretty quickly that receiving rejections was almost as common as losing at a rigged carnival game. I couldn’t figure out why my writing wasn’t good enough, in what areas it was deficient, and to tell you the truth, it would be several years until such things were even remotely clear to me. Regardless, the absolute worst part of it all was receiving the rejections themselves, because I’m kind of a sensitive guy, and damn, they really tended to bruise the old ego.
Writers vary pretty wildly in how we respond to rejection. Some of us never seem fazed by it. Regardless of how often, how impersonal, and how heavy a solid “no” is, these guys seem to take it all in stride. I’ve never been able to tell if the impressive shrug of their shoulders is a put-on, but I do know one thing for certain: I cannot count myself amongst them. When I got rejections, I’d mope and whine and pout for hours or even days. Just ask my wife, who was my new girlfriend at the time. I’d turn into a real bear, and it was because it hurt so much. Like I said, sensitive guy. Plus, no one could get through to me about one very crucial thing: this is the way it’s supposed to be.
If you’re like me, and you tend to take rejection hard—or even if you’re not like me, and moving on to the next story submission is the easiest thing in the world—might I recommend a little tried and true advice. Accept your rejection phase as a given, and if you can go just one more country mile with me, learn to welcome it as a friend. Your rejection phase is helping to make you the writer you’ve always wanted to be. Your rejection phase is purifying your desire to write, and in so doing, allowing you to really decide if a writing career is what you want.
Because if it is, no amount of rejection will ever dissuade you. I thought I’d quit a million times. Now I realize there is no quit. No is never the final answer. And anyone who’s been publishing work for years and years will tell you rejection doesn’t end. Sure, you’re likely to receive less and less of it as you progress, but it’s not the kind of thing that disappears entirely. I know it hurts. Trust me, I’m with you on that one. But unless you plan on going all-indie, it really is a necessary part of your growth as a writer. Kind of a raw deal, I suppose. But then again, nobody ever climbs Mount Everest because it’s easy.
Now a brief word on indie publishing. A lot of older writers—and I don’t necessarily mean older in years, but rather older in experience level or maybe in their stance on traditional publishing—tend to believe that self-publishing inherently makes for worse writers. The idea being, of course, that without the resistance provided by steady rejection, a writer can never become all he or she is meant to become. I came up this way. I’d published dozens of times before I ever self-published on Amazon. The thing is, I don’t necessarily find it to be the case.
Sure, there is a lot of disposable material indie-published on the internet. And yes, I also believe adversity makes us better. But a writer can pick up all sorts of lessons and professional techniques in all sorts of different ways. Every time an indie author publishes something online and gets a few bad reviews, it’s not entirely unlike receiving a standard form rejection. In other words, the negative reinforcement can still become a positive.
All of this might lead someone to ask, what are the long-term effects of rejection? Well, this can go one of two ways. The majority of people who try their hand at writing will never even finish a single manuscript. Statistically, that is absolutely the case. Of those who finish, few will ever submit their work for publication. Now, those who do submit their work (or as the case may be, self-publish it) are likely to meet up with a little adversity. I’d say 90% of them will cut and run as soon as rejection gets too much to bear. But that remaining 10% will soldier on, and they’ll likely receive quite a bit more rejection in the months and years ahead. Is there a long-term legacy of rejection? Yes, there is, but it’s seldom a negative one. I think you’ll find one day that you treasure all those formal beat-downs you received.
Here’s what I would say. No matter how you ply your craft, regardless of whether you choose the path of the traditional publisher or the indie upstart, continuous work, practice, blood, sweat, and tears, are the only things that will make you better. Rejection is at times the name of the game, true enough, but it never has to be the final word on anything. Right?
Until next time, everybody!
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Ask the Authors (Round 2)
It’s a necessary evil. Believe me, left on my own I can make mistakes. And I never see them because I see what I think I wrote, not what is actually there. Editing and revision is a must in my opinion.
Meh! LOL. Depends on how much I enjoy the story and how much time I have spent on it. Some stories I just absolutely love, and don’t mind going over it again and again, improving it, making it better. Others I just want out of my hands ASAP. Lol.
It really doesn’t bother me at all. My editor does the hard part.
It’s a necessary evil but it’s not my favorite part of the process.
Huge, each of them. My process is: I create an outline then write chapters and send them to my critique partners, getting daily feedback while I continue to write the rest of the story. Then I incorporate their suggestions, then send that revised MS to another CP who acts as editor. Then after any additional changes, the MS goes to betas, typos and other minor errors get fixed, and then it gets released.
alpha readers – my critique partners are pretty much my alpha readers and editors, as explained below
beta readers – this step is huge. My stories get read by a group of betas (post CPs and post editing) to see if the story is tight and to spot typos or errors. Each will see something the others didn’t, too. I love my betas.
critique partners – I used to be in a free online critique group, which I joined because I was told helping others would sharpen my own skills. It worked. After a few years, I quit that group and started my own (on a pay basis), and I began editing for others for a fee, but I still have a few key people from those days that I rely heavily on. They are basically my sole CPs and editor(s) now.
editors – I reciprocate editing with two other bestselling authors, so we hold each other to high standards. Using them is what makes my stories so good.
proofreaders – I use my beta readers as proofreaders. It’s like crowdsourcing, and they are good at it.
When I first started out, I tended toward asking everyone’s opinion and trying to take what they said as gospel. I also spent a lot of time explaining to everyone why their opinions were wrong! Hah! I’ve seen that with a lot of newer writers, too, so I guess it’s just part of the process. Now I tend more toward getting fewer opinions–a good editor is worth their weight in gold, obviously, but a bad editor can drain your will to live.
After finishing a novel, I send it to my critique partners. Once I’ve addressed their comments, I send it to my publisher. My publisher then sends the book through an editor for 2 edits, and then a final proofreader. I hate it when a typo or two still slip through!
Now that I am self-publishing, my manuscripts are gone over by my wife. She goes over my manuscript before it goes anywhere, and she is good about catching wrong words, misspellings, and bad grammar.
I have a critique partner who helps me with my second edit stage, and editor on hand that I ask for all those pesky little grammar rules and to make sure I get things right, and then I slip through my own manuscript and apply them. My shorter stories that I write for anthologies I send to my editor, and I use the feedback on my editorial mistakes and learn from them, doing my best to avoid them in my larger manuscripts.
Once I’m finished writing I send my manuscript to my beta readers before anybody else. They provide me with their suggested changes and most of the time I go with their suggestions. Once that is done, then it is off to the editor for two rounds of editing. Once the editing process is done then it goes to my arc readers. And then it’s published.
I generally use a professional editor for grammar, mechanics, and to ensure the story flows.
I use a combination. If I let my MS rest, I can catch a lot of mistakes. Between the CPs, the betas, and a final edit (I trade editing with two other bestselling authors), my MS is good to go. I do this for these reasons: 1. editing is expensive, but most stories need better pace more than they need commas in the right place, and few editors do as good a job at pace than I do/my CPs do; 2. Money spent on editing – often $750 – $1500 – would be better spent on marketing; and 3. My team does a good job, but I’ve read plenty of professionally edited manuscripts that (A) have errors and (B) don’t have errors but the story is boring because the pace sucks.
Write a gripping, fast-paced story with interesting characters readers care about, and you can have missing commas. Most editors fix the commas but most writers need the story fixed. MS Word will alert you to a lot of mistakes if you let it, and there is a lot of free online software you can use if you are worried about passive tense nonsense. If you use an editor, deliver them as clean a MS as you can by using the steps I’ve discussed first. It’ll save you money.
I’ve done pretty much every option at some point or other. My current preference is for advanced readers and a proofreader for novel-length work. Short stories tend to get a little more fast and loose due to deadlines.
My publishers all handle the editing process.
Before I started self-publishing my books, publishers supplied editors to go over my manuscripts. Now I do it myself, but with my wife’s help.
As a self-published author on the smell of an oily rag budget a 130K word manuscript can be very pricey to have edited. My critique partner is a wonderful help in the editing and proofing of the monster sized stories, and I use my editorial feedback from my shorter, professionally edited ones to try and avoid my errors. Like I said, I see them as learning experiences and use them to improve. But I ALWAYS have another set of eyes go across my manuscripts to check for final proofing before I hit publish.
I hire someone to do my editing, I don’t trust myself, and I think other authors are way too critical and read more into content and they do actual editing. Although my editor helps me with content he is less biased than another author would be.
I’ve worked with in-house editors at the publishing house; I’ve done it myself; and I’ve hired a freelancer. Of the 3 I preferred the in-house editor. I believe it was because she was on a retainer so she gave my work more attention than the freelancer who seemed to rush through it. I’m not saying all freelance editors are that way but you get what you pay for indeed. As for doing it yourself, I have done that to cut corners and it always comes back to bite me. Inevitably a reader will find a mistake.
I do everything. First, I edit it on myself. Then, I apply some online media resources, like “Prowritingaid” for instance. When I can´t find any mistakes, but I know they are there, I send it to a professional editor for line editing and proofreading. While doing this, I test some excerpts of the book in writing groups so I can receive feed-back on plot, voice, and narrative. When I get it back, I start my submissions to publishers. When it is accepted by a publisher, it will be edited again. On top of all that, I have no mercy while editing, I cut and cut repeatedly until it is the core essential words within the book. My motto is “if there is an idea that has been said in a hundred words that can be said in ten; use ten.” I am very satisfied with it, I may not have a long book, but I have everything that is needed for an enjoyable reading!
Yes, I write in the old style, the way authors wrote for the pulp magazines, and more was allowed back then. Adjectives, adverbs, verbs, and colorful phrases. Editors want to eliminate a lot of extra words, but writing for the pulps paid a cent a word, and authors had to get as many words in as they could to make enough for a good paycheck. That’s not how we’re paid today, for the most part. Although I recently submitted a story that pays three cents a word, we don’t really need all the extra words. But I’m writing stories that would have fit in the pulp magazines of the 1930s & ‘40s, and I want my stories to have the same sound. Editors can’t understand that.
I’ve had edits from an editor for an anthology that showed that they didn’t know what they were doing. Some people ‘think’ they know, but really they don’t. I think it’s important to get a sample edit done from an editor to see their work before you hire someone. My first book, I had three different sample edits done and quotes for the editing – one guy almost completely re-wrote my sample with all of his editing and totally missed the point entirely suggesting name changes to make characters easier for the reader to remember – I don’t think he grasped if I changed the names of my Egyptian gods, they wouldn’t be recognised as my Egyptian gods.
Yes. I had an editor work on two different manuscripts and on the first one it was a more in-depth edit. When it came to the second manuscript they seemed to have hurried through it. I wasn’t happy with that at all.
Have you ever received edits that made you think the editor was totally off, only to find as you began to work through them, that they were actually spot on?
Sort of. My very first editor was trying to help me but I was too defensive about the story. I learned to not be defensive, and things got a lot better.
- The reader can understand what’s going on.
- The reader forms clear opinions about the characters.
- The reader had a clear feeling about the ending.
That’s hard to say. Yes, the editor is qualified to make those changes in the modern style, but are they destroying what I am doing by making me follow modern writing, instead an eighty-year-old style I’m trying to imitate? There’s no easy answer here.
My favourite editor, the one who puts up with me asking for clarification of grammar rules. At first I was confused with some of her suggestions, and then when I queried her on them – yes, you can challenge your editor and ask them to clarify – and she explained WHY something was as it was, I nodded my head, filed the information away and worked to keep that new lesson learned first and forefront in my mind as I move forward with my new works.
No, my editors help me think outside the box at times and two right in areas that are far out of my comfort zone.
For the most part the editors I’ve worked with did have some good feedback. But its the readers who have given me the most food for thought. For instance, my last book Karma has some well developed antagonists that seemed to take over the story. It told me 2 things. (1) I need to punch up my hero characters and (2) The antagonist needs a story of their own!
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Alternative Means of Expression – Part I
By Jeff Bowles
The first Wednesday of every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.
Hey, kids. Life got you down? Writing career in the gutter? Why not put those keen authorin’ skills to the test and express yourself in new and exciting ways? You never know. You might just become an overnight internet celebrity!
I Thought I’d start this month’s Pep Talk under the guise of a made-for-TV salesman. Sometimes the promises of freedom and vocational enjoyment seem too good to be true. Then again, crashing and burning after writing up a storm for ten years straight isn’t all that appealing either, now is it? Not to be too gruff, but I’d rather be a slick salesman and get you to buy a decent breather every now and then than a stereotypical “pro-level” writer selling you a load of BS about “Writers write, always!” How are we doing so far?
There have been plenty of times I haven’t felt like writing a word. I know you’ve felt the same way. Lots of writers throw everything they’ve got at their careers. Best-seller or bust, you know what I mean? And while I appreciate that kind of discipline and have even managed to embody it once or twice in my life, it certainly is nice to have some alternative creative shelters into which I can disappear and revitalize myself.
I guess for me, it often doesn’t matter how I choose to utilize my writing skills, just as long as I’m still working to bring new storytelling experiences into the world and entertain the heck out of people. I think I was born to entertain. I’ve worn a lot of hats in this respect. I’m a singer-songwriter, an artist, a photographer; you name it, I’ve tried it. For some, choosing to engage in alternative creative pursuits seems like indulging a certain lack of focus. I completely understand. I’d love to be the kind of guy who can be single-minded enough to churn out one or two novels a year ad infinitum, but I’m just not wired that way.
One of the things I’ve dedicated myself to this past year has been my new YouTube channel, Jeff Bowles Central. It’s kind of a hodgepodge of all the things I love most: video games, movies, music, writing. I’ve even taken to reading some of my short stories in the style of old radio programs. I throw in sound effects and add some cool processing to my voice. Really, it’s a blast. One such video has gotten a pretty great reaction from people: Blue Dancing With Yellow, a flash fiction story about thunder beings crash landing in Central Park during a hurricane. The great thing about it is that I allowed myself to express my own written words in far more dynamic terms than simple text-on-page could allow. Here, check it out for yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXBx8hSRj7c
Of course, I’m not saying you’ve got to do as I did and put your own YouTube channel together. The point is in this day and age, you needn’t feel chained to or limited by the work you do. If you’re a storyteller–a good one who’s dedicated to your craft and who has worked incredibly hard to get those skills of yours into tip-top fighting shape–the sky is the limit.
Maybe get a bit more creative about what you can do and where you can ply your talents. The Internet has opened up a slew of new and burgeoning opportunities for folks like us. It’s not like your writing will disappear. It’ll always be there waiting for you when you’re ready to go back to it. Always. And do your best not to get so discouraged you decide to hang your writer hat up for good. If you’re feeling run down and discouraged, go make something new, something interesting. Play some guitar, make some videos or hire an illustrator to take your work into the visual realm. Are these alternative avenues always lucrative? No, very often they are not. But hey, they can be a hell of a lot of fun, and it seems to me that very few overworked writers consider the intrinsic value of that all-important F-word: fun.
Until next time, everyone. Why not share some of your extra-curricular creative pursuits in the comments section below? All of us here at WtbR would love to see them.
Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Video Games – Music – Entertainment – So Much More!