Why did you do it?
Believe me, it was never my plan to get rejected.
If you want to get someone to produce your work, you are at some point going to have to show it to someone you don't know. Once you do that, the odds are that it isn't going to be what they are looking for. That is not a nice feeling, and I know a lot of people who say they could never be a writer because they wouldn't be able to cope with it. But that feeling is temporary: I don't think about the Virgin New Adventure that didn't get commissioned or the Vertigo comic series I never got to create. To be honest, the successes are just as temporary: most writers I know are usually thinking about the next thing, not the last. The half-formed idea is always much more exciting than words on a page.
I get rejections because I try to get work. I can't stop the one, because I can't stop the other. That is, quite simply, all there is to it.
How did you do it?
There is a right and a wrong way to get a rejection. The odds are that you already know what the right way is. When I was editing The Perennial Miss Wildthyme for Obverse Books, I had to deliver a few rejections, and in every case the writers took it on the chin. Once you've been told no, the decision has been made and there's no way you are going to argue anybody into changing their mind. With that in mind, you might be tempted to let the rejector know what you really think of them, but that isn't going to do you any favours. People want to work with people who are good to work with: you demonstrate that you might not be, and you'll find that door closes very quickly.
Instead, it's important to take what positives you can from a rejection. If there's feedback, then that is free advice you can do with whatever you like. If there's an invitation to try again, or the possibility of starting a conversation – even a relationship – then that is genuinely fantastic. What a lot of people forget is that it is entirely possible for an unsolicited submission to convince a producer that a particular story isn't interesting to them, but that its writer is someone they want to work with. It's easy to get fixated on getting produced or published, and so miss out on what people are actually saying to you when they say “not yet”.
And sometimes there is nothing you can learn from a rejection. No matter how hard you stare at it, a photocopied form rejection isn't going to tell you where you went wrong. Sometimes it's just as important to learn how to put a rejection behind you, and move on to the next thing. The rejections I talk about in this section are just those few that I think illustrate some kind of point: for every one of them, I have a hundred more that only serve to demonstrate how easily hope triumphs over experience.
What did you get out of doing it?
It's easy to over-romanticise the rejection letter, to paint it as a learning experience that you should be glad to have. But I've got plenty of rejections that didn't give me anything more than a bad day. Getting rejections isn't something that's going to make you a better writer. Getting rejections is what's going to happen because you're trying to become a better writer.
But. But …
Every now and then, there are rejections that do help you. The rejections I got from the BBC Writers' Room, with a detailed report of what the reader had loved and also, ultimately, what had scuppered the whole thing for me. Every single rejection that Wolfsong received, with each of them opening the door to sending something else. Or the stories that I've rejected, the very few that have made me realise what I'm willing or able to do as a writer, and that I can walk away when I need to without any puppies needing to die. All of the rejections I've had have knocked my confidence, but some have hidden tiny glimmers of hope.