Ep 164: Writing Fears and How to Overcome Them – Fear of Rejection
Over the past week I followed several women on Instagram as they traveled to London for a literary-themed trip. One woman on the trip, Bri McKoy, posted a photo of a letter preserved under glass at St John’s College Library. The letter, written by Jane Austen’s father, was sent to a publisher, describing a book about the same length as a popular novel of the time. He wondered if they might be interested in taking a look at it.
The publisher rejected the book, sight unseen, with the short reply “declined by Return of Post.”
Famous Books Initially Rejected
Here’s part of Bri’s Instagram caption:
Everybody, listen up! What you are looking at is a REJECTION for Jane Austen’s book PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. Her dad sent a letter to a publishing house not only asking them to publish her manuscript but also telling them he would pay for everything. Still, they rejected it. They rejected it by sending his letter back to him. Can we sit with this for a moment? Someone. Rejected. P & P.
We know of many stories like this.
Lithub pulled together a list of books initially rejected by publishers. The list included Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, with 26 rejections from publishers, and Kathryn Stockett’s The Help which endured 60 rejections from agents.
The website Bookstr pulled together a list of 10 books rejected multiple times, including Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which was rejected 12 times; William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, rejected 20 times; and Carrie by Stephen King, rejected 28 times.
In her Instagram update, Bri pointed out how easy it is for us to have the luxury of knowing the whole story. “Listen,” she writes, “we know how that story ends….But what if we don’t know how the refusals handed to us end? What if we are sitting in our own unknown.”
Writers in Their Own Unknown
Websites like Bookstr don’t pull together a top ten list of writers who got rejection letters who still are unpublished. There’s no triumph there. There’s just the rejection. They’re sitting in their own unknown, so we don’t find inspiration in them.
St. John’s College Library doesn’t preserve under glass a rejection letter for a book that’s still sitting on someone’s hard drive, only read by a few beta readers and the writer’s mom.
The rejection letter is under glass because the book was rejected AND THEN was published and became the much-loved novel Pride and Prejudice.
Stephen King’s book Carrie made the list because it was rejected 28 times AND THEN it was picked up by a publisher and became a blockbuster commercial success and was made into a movie.
Same with The Help. It was rejected, AND THEN.
Many of us haven’t reached the AND THEN. We know the end of those other stories, but we don’t know the end of ours.
Worse, if we get the rejection, it feels like END OF STORY. That’s why we’re afraid.
Take Heart: This Is Not The End
I’m here to say it is not the end.
Bri encourages her readers to take heart. “Rejection is not an executioner. Rejection is a guide.” Then she goes through several possibilities.
This rejection could guide us to keep going or to pause.
To take a slight left turn even though we were certain we were to go right.
The idea could be too big or too small.
Then she says, “Remember you are living out a full story, not a highlight reel. Let rejection inform you, not destroy you.”
I join Bri in saying “take heart.” Take heart, because a rejection is not THE END. It’s not. So don’t let the fear of rejection keep you from doing the work.
When Fear of Rejection Stops Us Before We Even Begin
You may be afraid of a formal rejection by a magazine, an agent, or a book publisher where you submit your project. That fear may be holding you back from even sending it.
Don’t let it.
Don’t be afraid to try.
Query the agent. If they ask to see the manuscript, submit your work. Sign up for Submittable and send off your essays and s…