Friday, June 10, 2011

The Zen of Taking it Personally

Free-form Friday

With all the frustrations endemic to publishing, we generally do well to remember that it is a business and, whatever happens, we shouldn't take it personally. The form rejection your query received doesn't mean you're a bad person who should never be allowed to put pen to paper again. It only means that the agent wasn't compelled by your query.

But as with many things in the world that are more nuanced than black and white, there is another level at which you should take it personally. Howard Yoon, in an interview at the Guide to Literary Agents blog, said:
Take everything personally. If you get rejected, take it personally. Do better. Find out ways to improve yourself so that you don’t get rejected again. Fix your cover letter or your proposal or your writing. Trash your concept and start over. Don’t blame the industry or the market or the system. Take it upon yourself to improve YOUR chances.
He also said:
And when you get accepted, take it personally. Congratulate yourself. Treat yourself to a celebration. You earned it. You deserve it.
"But," you may ask, "isn't that completely contradictory? How can you both take rejection personally and not take it personally?"

Ah, herein lies another zen riddle.

You must not take it personally in any debilitating sense: don't allow a rejection to make you query your worth as a writer--or a person. Don't let the agonizing lack of response dampen your dream.

At the same time, you must take it personally in a constructive sense. Don't comfort yourself with the thought that a rejection is evidence of an agent's lack of vision. Instead, take responsibility for the fact that your query didn't work and ask what you can do to make it better, or to do a better job of finding agents who are likely to be interested. Or perhaps your story isn't as compelling as it could be (or another might be more compelling). In the end, the only question that matters--and the only aspect of the process over which you have control--is the question, "What can you do?"

[And sometimes the answer--perhaps the most difficult answer--is, "stay the course and be more patient."]

Image: Photography by BJWOK /

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