Writers often question why they are writing. We know the bottom line is that we want to write and so we do. It’s almost an uncontrollable urge. Convincing ourselves that others want to read our work is not so easily accomplished. When a reader lets us know that our words resonate with them, that they connect with the story or with a particular character, the reward could not be greater! Honest! Ask anyone who writes.
The entire culture of being published has changed dramatically over the past few years with the growth of indie or self-publishing, but today I want to share an interview that relates to following the traditional route. Part of the process of seeking literary representation includes accepting the fact we will, in all likelihood, receive many letters of rejection.
Recently Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, wrote a fabulous article about her experience of receiving 60 rejections before one agent recognized her talent. The humor, insight and truth she expresses is inspiring to many of us who write for the love of it and hope for the best.
These two cartoons are part of a series “101 Excuses Not To Write”. Free for anyone to access by the way, fellow bloggers!
I’m printing the article below and also posting the website on which it can be found.(I’ve posted this article on Facebook and Twitter but want to share it with readers who have managed not to succumb to the siren call of social media!)
Kathryn Stockett’s ‘The Help’ Turned Down 60 Times Before Becoming a Best Seller by MORE Magazine, on Tue Aug 9, 2011 6:02am PDT
If you ask my husband my best trait, he’ll smile and say, “She never gives up.” But if you ask him my worst trait, he’ll get a funny tic in his cheek, narrow his eyes and hiss, “She. Never. Gives. Up.”
It took me a year and a half to write my earliest version of The Help. I’d told most of my friends and family what I was working on. Why not? We are compelled to talk about our passions. When I’d polished my story, I announced it was done and mailed it to a literary agent.
Six weeks later, I received a rejection letter from the agent, stating, “Story did not sustain my interest.” I was thrilled! I called my friends and told them I’d gotten my first rejection! Right away, I went back to editing. I was sure I could make the story tenser, more riveting, better.
A few months later, I sent it to a few more agents. And received a few more rejections. Well, more like 15. I was a little less giddy this time, but I kept my chin up. “Maybe the next book will be the one,” a friend said. Next book? I wasn’t about to move on to the next one just because of a few stupid letters. I wanted to write this book.
A year and a half later, I opened my 40th rejection: “There is no market for this kind of tiring writing.” That one finally made me cry. “You have so much resolve, Kathryn,” a friend said to me. “How do you keep yourself from feeling like this has been just a huge waste of your time?”
That was a hard weekend. I spent it in pajamas, slothing around that racetrack of self-pity—you know the one, from sofa to chair to bed to refrigerator, starting over again on the sofa. But I couldn’t let go of The Help. Call it tenacity, call it resolve or call it what my husband calls it: stubbornness.
After rejection number 40, I started lying to my friends about what I did on the weekends. They were amazed by how many times a person could repaint her apartment. The truth was, I was embarrassed for my friends and family to know I was still working on the same story, the one nobody apparently wanted to read.
Sometimes I’d go to literary conferences, just to be around other writers trying to get published. I’d inevitably meet some successful writer who’d tell me, “Just keep at it. I received 14 rejections before I finally got an agent. Fourteen. How many have you gotten?”
By rejection number 45, I was truly neurotic. It was all I could think about—revising the book, making it better, getting an agent, getting it published. I insisted on rewriting the last chapter an hour before I was due at the hospital to give birth to my daughter. I would not go to the hospital until I’d typed The End. I was still poring over my research in my hospital room when the nurse looked at me like I wasn’t human and said in a New Jersey accent, “Put the book down, you nut job—you’re crowning.”
It got worse. I started lying to my husband. It was as if I were having an affair—with 10 black maids and a skinny white girl. After my daughter was born, I began sneaking off to hotels on the weekends to get in a few hours of writing. I’m off to the Poconos! Off on a girls’ weekend! I’d say. Meanwhile, I’d be at the Comfort Inn around the corner. It was an awful way to act, but—for God’s sake—I could not make myself give up.
In the end, I received 60 rejections forThe Help. But letter number 61 was the one that accepted me. After my five years of writing and three and a half years of rejection, an agent named Susan Ramer took pity on me. What if I had given up at 15? Or 40? Or even 60? Three weeks later, Susan sold The Help to Amy Einhorn Books.
The point is, I can’t tell you how to succeed. But I can tell you how not to: Give in to the shame of being rejected and put your manuscript—or painting, song, voice, dance moves, [insert passion here]—in the coffin that is your bedside drawer and close it for good. I guarantee you that it won’t take you anywhere. Or you could do what this writer did: Give in to your obsession instead.
And if your friends make fun of you for chasing your dream, remember—just lie.
The article was written by Kathryn Stockett.
Editor’s Note: This essay appears in the anthology The Best Advice I Ever Got: Lessons from Extraordinary Lives, edited by Katie Couric and published by Random House in April. Stockett’s novel went on to be a bestseller and the movie “The Help” premieres on August 10.
Here is the link to the article with photo on Shine from Yahoo.
Obviously one of the ways to handle rejection is to dig your heels in and not give up. It takes strength, determination, a good sense of humor and possibly a lot of chocolate. How do you handle rejection or stumbling blocks in your path? What works for you?
Megan Nafke says
Thank you for sharing that inspiring article. I had taken an excellent writing class at my local college. I was surprised that most of the students write regularly but had not finished their novel. The professor found the root of the problem. Most of the students were scared of the rejection. The writing part is fun, but finishing it and letting people read it could be down right scary.
I’m really happy you shared this article. We need to hear that books that should be published are getting rejected along side poorly written books.
The first time I let someone read my writing I felt like I was standing there naked! You’re right – it’s downright scary at first. We can all use the inspiration from Stockett. Thanks for your comment and write on!
The first rejections I received for a finished novel made me feel like a professional for the first time. For some reason, sending a manuscript out to people who “know” about writing and publishing and having them send back the standard rejection made it all real and authentic.
Just like that I was a bonafide writer.
Nothing changed other than somebody said they couldn’t get excited enough about my story to offer representation. But they read it and they didn’t say it wasn’t ready, it just wasn’t their cup of words.
There’s a lot of agents out there. Sooner or later I figure one of them is going to like the flavor of that particular book and want more than a sip.
You just keep writing.
You are so right. There is someone out there just waiting for your query letter. Write on!
Crystal Jigsaw says
Brilliant article. So very inspiring for writers trying to get published. Many give up early on because I think many expect too much too soon. This article has certainly made me think.
Never give up – that’s got to be a writer’s mantra!
Patricia Caviglia says
Rejection is not to be feared. We must accept it as a part of writing. A solid sense of self-esteem is indispensible to success. It will keep our dreams alive when we ask ourselves “Why am I doing this?” Furthermore, it will cause our fingers to type as quickly as we think on the days when we know we write because we LOVE it. Thank you for sharing Stockett’s tale. She is an example of what we can do if we believe in ourselves and our work.
Well said, Patricia. Hearing stories like Kathryn Stockett’s reminds us of that. Thanks for your comment!
Thank you so much for sharing. What an inspiration!
Thanks Natalie! I think it does us all good to hear stories like this.
Angela Wallace says
I’ve gotten quite a few rejections myself. For me, it wasn’t about giving up or pressing onward, it became about finding another way to achieve my goal. When I discovered I could self-pub, I thought, “why not?” Sure, the traditional route seemed the most glamorous, but self-publishing didn’t mean I could never get trad published. So I went that way, and I’m liking it. My goal is for people to read my books, regardless of the method. I still hope for an agent and the queries are still going out, but I’m not going to assume there is only one way to make my dreams come true.
Great interview. 🙂
That’s the right attitude! One way or another those dreams will come true. Thanks for your comment.
Patricia Sands says
Hey Jess, I’m glad you came across this post from three years ago and that you responded to it. The more involved I’ve become in the writing world, the more this post resonates with me and others. The road is not easy but I wouldn’t trade being an indie author. How about you?
Jess Alter says
“How do you handle rejection or stumbling blocks in your path? What works for you?”
Thank you so much for sharing Kathryn Stockett’s personal journey as she shopped her bestselling novel, “The Help”, to agents. Also, those 101 Excuses Not To Write comics are cute and fun.
I went the independent publishing route, because I would give up long before 60 rejections. Even as an indie writer, I find myself wondering what is going on in my fevered brain that I would publish any of my written works for consumption other than my own. My answer to the question of why I still haven’t given up, I think, is summed up by best by your own words, Patricia:
“We know the bottom line is that we want to write and so we do. It’s almost an uncontrollable urge. Convincing ourselves that others want to read our work is not so easily accomplished. When a reader lets us know that our words resonate with them, that they connect with the story or with a particular character, the reward could not be greater!”
Thanks for a great ‘blog post!