So I'm going to tell you something you DIDN'T know about rejection, which will have you raise your eyebrows and maybe - just maybe - look at yourself and your writing a little differently.
First, though, let's just set out the practical things you should know about rejection, then I will try to send your eyebrows up... So here we go: Firstly, we have to face it...
1) Rejection is inevitable. It comes with the job. Show me a successful writer who never got rejected, I'll show you a liar. Nobody likes it, but you do need to accept it and learn to live with it.
2) Rejection is rarely a reflection of your ability. Most of the time, there's a practical, business reason behind rejection. For example, if a publisher/agent can manage, say, ten writers, once they have ten, they reject everything else until there's some bandwidth. And they have to choose carefully what to do with that limited bandwidth, or they go out of business. Should an agent choose to work on, e.g., David Beckham's new book, or some truly brilliant story by an unknown? Sad but true - the certain money is in the one who isn't even a writer! So you don't even get read; you get rejected. The most common reason for rejection is that the genre of the submission doesn't match the genre of the publisher. Instant rejection. Nothing to do with the merits of your writing. So don't feel hurt personally. It's not usually an ego thing. Learn the lesson (if there is one), turn it around, and send it out again.
3) Rejection makes acceptance soooo much sweeter when it comes. I have my handful of deals, and when I look at the shed-full of rejection letters it took to get there, it makes me smile. And really proud of myself for hanging in there. Turn it on its head. If someone said to you: 'I'll give you a deal if you accept 100 rejections first.' You'd take that, right? Well, that's kind of how it works. Use every rejection to make yourself more determined than ever. Quality DOES win out. You know if you're good. Keep going. Dig deep. Go again. Bank those rejections, and crank up the sweetness of the deal when it comes...
4) Rejection is easier to take if you have already moved on. Get immersed in your next story and get excited by that, and any rejection of previous work is much easier to take. Agents and publishers take AGES getting back... so just fire and forget. Don't sit by the letterbox wringing your hands - people who do that are CRUSHED by those inevitable rejections. Don't phone them up and bug them. move on! Get the next one rolling! If you're going to be professional, you will need more stuff, and now is the time to write it whilst you have time!
OK. Here's the surprise one. When I work with writers who are taking years and years to finish a story, it sometimes becomes apparent that it's not their artistic nature or perfectionist tendencies that are the issue... it's the fear of Rejection. Before you finish something, it's easy to go to parties and flick your hair and say, 'oh, yes, I'm a writer, don't you know...' and discuss your story and the life of a writer; and people are impressed and life is pleasant. But of course, life only stays impressive and pleasant while the story remains unfinished. The day you say you've finished, it's up for evaluation... and the possibility of various forms of rejection. I'd say it's even harder for an aspiring writer, because the evaluation comes primarily from family and friends... and they need to be ignored, because unless they say something that totally resonates with your own self-criticism, it's not helpful. Writing for a 'public' who don't know you except through your writing, is different. Write for yourself. Be your own critic - it's YOUR story, and it's right when you say it is, not your mum or partner (what do they know?!). Send it to agents and industry people, and accept what they say. You don't need to 'work with' your friends and family at all.
So is this you? Aspiring writers, particularly those with no deadlines, can take decades and still never finish, because they are so scared it isn't good enough. But you must never forget... the most important thing: it's YOUR story. If YOU say it's right, then it's right. Other people will have their views - including agents and publishers and producers - but you can't bend yourself to every opinion that arrives, and you can't force the commercial process. So put on your rhino skin, take the bull by the horns, bite the bullet, grasp the nettle, and adopt the proven, simple and powerful three steps to success John (Only Fools and Horses) Sullivan gave me:
1) Write the best stuff you can.
2) Send it off.
3) Go to 1.
If you think about it, it's all you CAN do. And it's all that every successful writer has ever done. So what are you doing reading this?! Get off the internet and get your work out there!
For more on the publishing process, rejection, story quality and the full conversations with John Sullivan and with publishing head, Stewart Ferris, check out The Story Book (which also includes full details on How to Do Step 1) !