Reframing Rejection

If you've ever put your work into the world, hoping for publication or recognition, then you've probably experienced rejection. A flat out no. Maybe a "strong work, but it doesn't fit in our publication." Perhaps silence. The silence is the worst, isn't it?

A lot of you have told me that you have a hard time with the rejection, and you're not sure how to deal with it. I've never felt like I had a good answer... and then I entered a contest.

It was a book proposal contest. I'd had no intention of doing it, but then I listened to a series of classes put on by the contest's founder and I got an idea for a book. An idea that really excited me.

I knew that, left to my own devices, I would lose the idea. I'd push it to the back of that proverbial pile labeled "Someday" and never look at it again. I also knew that there were a lot of prizes, and that I liked the runner up prizes best. (I wasn't even shooting for first place, which in some twisted way made me feel like it was a safer risk).

So I submitted a proposal and waited. Which is to say that I dwelled on and day dreamed about all of the following (in no particular order and more than once):

  • They would call me and accuse me of plagiarism (even though I knew it was all my own work)
  • I would win and be able to announce that I was a WINNER. Just think of how that would boost my professional success!!
  • There was no way I could win. I wasn't sure I liked the host of the classes, so how could I win? Just seemed like a terrible energetic match
  • But what if I really did win something? What if it was my time? It sure seemed like an inspired idea.

Well. The results came this week. I scanned the list of winners, and for a brief moment, my heart soared because I thought I saw my name. But no. Allison was a winner, not me.

And to be honest, I was disappointed. Sad. Discouraged. Worried that my idea was bad. And then I remembered: rejection isn't an end game.

Here's what I know. Not winning could be a sign of many things. Perhaps my proposal needs work (after all, I have ideas on how to make it better). Perhaps my work truly wasn't a fit for this contest (they were after "transformational" books, which I now understand to mean "self-help" and I'm not sure that's what I want to write). Or maybe the applicant pool was really, really strong and my work didn't measure up.

Whatever the case, it doesn't matter. My emotional, inner critic can try all it wants to lead me down a path of doom and gloom, but my next steps are simple:

  • Revisit my proposal. Is this still a project I feel passionate about?
  • If yes, then do I see changes I could make? If so, make them.
  • Can I find a contest or an agent that is a better fit for my work? Resubmit it.
  • And if I keep getting rejected, then who can I ask for input? About the idea. About the proposal. About what to try next.

Rejection (especially repeated rejection) sucks. But it's simply one step along the path to success. It's only the end game if we let it be so.