I am getting ready to send my current novel out into the world, so I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the process of submission. I don’t mean just the physical process of manuscripts, cover letters, and plot synopses, but the emotional process. The complex mass of conflicting feelings writers experience as they submit their work—and the various ways they deal with them.
Submission is the hardest part of the writing life. It’s a threshold between the private, internal world of creation and the public world in which our work will ultimately be judged. Submitting our work is the only way to gain the external validation we crave, a necessary step to becoming a “legitimate,” established, published author. But it also makes us hideously vulnerable and exposed and opens the door to potential failure. How hard it is to take the work of our souls and send it into the marketplace!
Having worked with writers for years as a teacher and coach, I’ve seen the ways people handle the process of sending work out. Those ways are as varied as the works themselves, but they all use a small set of basic strategies. Although most of us use a mixture, writers can be categorized based on which of three strategies dominate. I call these categories of writers the Humble Offerer, the Great Benefactor, and the Contributor.
For the next three Tuesdays, I’ll explore these different strategies. Today, I’ll start with the one I suspect is most common: The Humble Offerer.
Some writers approach the marketplace as if it were the abode of gods, and agents and editors deities. With trembling hands and downcast eyes, they approach the altar of submission and lay their first-born upon it, praying that the Great Ones will not strike them down.
These writers tend to think of publishing as a reward for good writing and feel as if a rejection is a judgment about their talent, their future as writers, and their worth as human beings. As as result, they often find submission traumatic.
But the worst problem for these writers is how they react when their work is rejected. Humble Offerers see rejection letters as reason for shame and dismay. They say things to themselves like, “I should have known I wasn’t good enough” or “I’ll never be a writer.” Rather than merely feeling disappointed, they become grief-stricken and depressed. As a result, the Humble Offerer often finds it difficult to rebound after a rejection. In the old days, they would shove their manuscript to the back of a drawer where they didn’t have to look at it. These days, it hides on a hard drive in a never-opened directory. I’ve known writers who let their work sit for months and years because they felt so disheartened over a handful of rejection letters, thereby fulfilling their own prophecy: They never will be published.
I think most writers have gone into Humble Offerer mode at one time or other: It’s just easy to go there. But there are things we can do to get ourselves out of it. Here are four statements every Humble Offerer should post in their writing space and repeat aloud on a daily basis.
1. A rejection letter isn’t a statement about the value of your work: It’s just a letter from an agent who looked at 57 other manuscripts that week.
2. Publication isn’t an honor bestowed upon you because you’re a good writer. It’s an often arbitrary event that can happen to bad and good writers alike.
3. Rejection is part and parcel of the writing life.You are in a very competitive business. Remember that. Get used to it.
4. Persistence is your lifeline. Constantly writing, constantly improving, and constantly getting your work out is what will build your writing career. Get that manuscript out of cold storage. Rewrite and revise. Send it out again.
Next Tuesday: Strategy # 2: The Great Benefactor.
Causes Jill Jepson Supports
Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Interational Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs, National Wildlife Federation,...