Many years ago I was trying to get better in softball and I asked a buddy of mine for advice on hitting. He said,
"Only one thing to remember about hitting. Always swing hard in case you hit the ball."
While that advice seems overly simplistic, I have found it applies in many areas of life beyond any sports arena. Rejection is simply a means by which you step up to the plate, and swing and miss. But just like in baseball the more you swing the better your chances of getting a hit. Conversely the more you swing, the more rejection and failure you face too. But rejection and failure is just a fact of life.
I have been rejected a lot in my life. I say this with neither shame nor pride, but rather as a statement of fact. As a young man in high school with a love for books, sarcastic wit, troublesome attitude, and a physical build that was a mix of Ichabod Crane, and a young Jimmy Stewart minus about a hundred pounds, I wasn't exactly the cup o' tea of the average high school female. But that didn't stop me from trying.
I remember a particularly rough rejection at a local water-park. I was probably thirteen or fourteen at the time and my mom had dropped me and a group of my friends off to spend the day at the park while she went to work. Around lunchtime, my friends and I spotted a young lady reading a paperback novel while sunbathing. All of us were mesmerized by her beauty. But what really caught my eye was the ring of keys sitting beside her purse. Yes, that's right, she had driven HERSELF to the pool. Back then that was pretty impressive. Full of gusto and grit, I walked up to her certain that her sixteen or seventeen-year-old self would be impressed by my manly manliness in all its sparkling 6 foot, 85-pound glory. In my mind, I looked like Han Solo. In reality, I guess I bore some similarities to Han Solo. Except for his build, handsomeness, wit, charm, shoulders, and face. So I guess really we both just had brown hair. But regardless I was going to step up to the plate and swing hard in case I hit the ball.
So I broke out my trusty pickup line perfected countless times in the bathroom mirror.
"Hey," I said, stepping into her field of vision and blocking out the sun. "Do you know what time it is?"
Yeah, I was a stud I know. But hang on it gets better.
She looked up at me, squinting in the sun and I distinctly remember her looking me up and down. I was shirtless - my ribs no doubt jutting out like I hadn't eaten at any point in my entire life - and dressed only in my swimming trunks which probably did very little to accentuate my knobby knees. She covered her eyes with one hand and said:
"There's a clock right there." She pointed over her shoulder.
Sure enough, on the bathing patio next to the wave pool was a building which housed the male and female dressing rooms and bathrooms, and a large refreshment stand with a massive clock tower built into the roof. The size of said clock would make King Arthur's round table look small. Seriously the thing was larger than a SETI satellite dish.
Obviously, this lovely young lady was not impressed at my roguishly good looks and bravery. Behind me, all my friends laughed and snickered at my sudden descent to earth. I walked away from her a little shorter.
But that's not the rejection I am talking about.
A few days ago I submitted a query letter to 4 agents. I had conducted about 8 hours of research gathering 10 names of agents from publishers marketplace. I then researched each agent and got down to a list of seven. Two of those seven required exclusive query rights, which is just a fancy way of saying you are allowed to query them, but no one else until they respond to you. So I put those two in my back pocket. One of the agents on my list required a two page synopsis. This stunk because I had just put a ten page synopsis together for a publishing submission a couple weeks ago. I didn't have a page synopsis ready yet. So I went ahead and submitted queries to the remaining four.
I had been told to expect not to hear anything from agents for about 4-6 weeks. Instead I got the following note the very next day, less than 24 hours after I sent the query email.
From: [AGENT EMAIL REMOVED]
Date: February 12, 2014 at 11:29:22 AM EST
To: Charlie Clayton
Subject: Re: Agent Query Letter Submission for [AGENT NAME REMOVED]
I greatly appreciate the opportunity to consider your query - thanks for sending it.
Alas, the query didn't appeal quite enough to inspire me to offer representation or further consideration of your project. I wish I had the time to respond to everyone with constructive criticism, but it would be overwhelming, hence this form response.
This business is highly subjective; many people whose work I haven't connected with have gone on to critical and commercial success. So, keep trying!
I am grateful that you have afforded me this opportunity to find out about you and your project, and wish you the best of success with your current and future creative work.
All best wishes,
[AGENT NAME REMOVED] [AGENCY REMOVED]
So my first response from an agent was a form rejection.
For those of you not sure how this works I will give you this grading scale when it comes to rejections in publishing.
No Response: This is like an F in school. You sucked bad and are not even worth the time to respond.
Form response with no specific comments: This is like a D in school I guess, only you still fail. You suck, just not really bad.
Form response with specific comments: This is like a C. It was interesting enough to warrant 30 seconds to tell you what to work on.
Custom personalized response: B. I like you, tell me more.
Custom personalized response with offer: Obviously an A.
Therefore, I got the D.
So what does that mean for my submission? Honestly not too much. A form rejection tells you very little. There are many possibilities. He wasn't interested because he just signed someone with a book similar to mine. Perhaps he didn't like the story idea. Perhaps he didn't get his kid to school on time that morning and spilled coffee on his lap in his haste. Perhaps his dog pooped on the living room carpet, and that made him late. Perhaps he hates people named Charlie because years ago someone named Charlie beat him up in school, and he has since committed to himself never to represent a guy named Charlie.
For the record, I looked this guy up, saw his picture and I am 95.5% sure I've never beat him up before.
But a form rejection is also not the best news. It does truly mean the query was not good enough to even warrant his attention in response. Without direction, I have no idea what to change on the query.
So where do I go from here?
Forward. That's always the answer. Trying again and again. Getting down about a strikeout is like being upset because it's raining or snowing. Whatever's happening out there might slow you down, but what else are you going to do, quit?
No thanks. You can't take stuff like this personal, though it's incredibly difficult. As a writer, you pour your heart in soul into something you bring to life from the spark of an idea. Then you work hard perfecting it. Then you send it out to a beta readers group and ask them to tell you all the ugly parts. It's a bit like standing in front of the school naked and then ASKING the assembly to come up and point to those parts about you they don't like. Yeah, it's hard.
Then you get to revise it all again. And again. And again.
Then you send it out and someone looks it over, decides it crap and ignores you. Yeah, it hurts.
But it's not personal.
This is an important lesson for anyone out there, no matter what you are trying to do. If it's writing, acting, learning a new language, trying something new, selling a product or mustering the courage to ask that special someone out on a date. Don't take it personally, keep trying. Always keep working at making yourself better.
The thing is, you can decide to be one of those guys with me at the water park, checking out that girl sun bathing and reading, and you can like her, find her attractive and wonder if there's a chance she might be interested in you. Then you can watch someone else go forward and try and laugh when they fail. Or you could be that guy who steps up and tries and gets rejected.
I know the importance of this personally. That girl rejected me, but I kept trying, asking others. Then one day I met a girl who didn't reject me. I put myself out there, she looked me up and down and decided to give it a shot. In so doing, she became the best choice I have ever made, the healthiest thing I have ever had in my life. Now we have three amazing kids together and a great life.
All because I swung hard in case I hit the ball.