Saturday, March 14, 2009

REJECTION - Or Selling Oranges in an Apple-loving World

I got my score sheets back from a recent contest in which I did NOT final and can I just say …. OUCH! I got hammered to various degrees by all three judges. Hey, I know. It happens. Not everyone is going to like what you write. I get that. This particular manuscript has done really well on the contest circuit, scoring high even when it didn’t final. So these judges’ sheets kind of stung a bit.

And it got me to thinking. In this business I believe how we handle rejection is at least as important, if not more important, than how we handle success. I’ve only been writing seriously for a little over two years. In that time I’ve received low contest scores, rejections from publishers and from agents. While it smarts each time it happens, I’ve never really considered giving up. Does that make me a grown up, a writer or a masochist? Maybe a little of all three?

I came into this endeavor with a bit of an advantage. I’ve been singing in vocal contests since I was sixteen years old. Trust me, judges in voice contests never even HEARD of the word subtle or positive reinforcement. Their job is to get people they feel are wasting their time OUT of the business. They’re really good at it too. The first couple of times I got dumped on by voice judges I was ready to quit. I even cried a few times. Then that idealist girl who just KNEW she was destined to be an opera singer would pick herself up, dust herself off and well …. you get the picture.

That attitude got me through high school and even college and graduate school. I just kept working on my craft, pushing myself and gradually the comments and criticism got better and so did I. The problem was I was a five foot nothing, ninety-three pound soprano with a voice that sounded like it should come out of a six foot heavy set woman with a horned helmet on her head, a breastplate and a big spear. They just couldn’t figure out what to do with me.

I auditioned for a number of American opera companies out of graduate school. Nobody had a spot for me. The comments ranged from “We’re not quite sure what kind of soprano you are.” to “You sound like Maria Callas on steroids.” Hint : He didn’t mean it as a compliment! Now I really wanted to quit. Years of voice lessons, college courses, and practice, practice, practice and for what? That’s when my grad school vocal coach said something that changed my life.

“You’re selling oranges to people who only want apples. You just have to find the people that want oranges. Once you do your voice will take you anywhere you want to go.”

I’ve been thinking about that bit of wisdom a lot lately. With all of my successes on the contest circuit I still don’t have an agent or an editor. I haven’t found the people who want oranges. I know they’re out there. I just need to keep looking. I don’t need to write like all of the people who are selling books like hot cakes. I don’t need to change my manuscript to suit every judge who reads it in a contest. I just need to keep telling my stories, keep working on my craft and pushing myself and believe that those orange lovers are out there somewhere waiting for me to bring the oranges.

And the music career? I sent a tape to a voice teacher at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria. He asked me to come to Austria to audition in person. I did and he accepted me as a student. I got a job the first time I auditioned and then a contract and the rest is history. My voice took me to Salzburg, Budapest, Amsterdam, Canterbury, and dozens of other places. Turns out Europe is full of orange lovers.

So, how about you? How do you handle rejection? Does it make you mad, sad, more determined? Do you keep your letters of rejection? Do you throw yourself a pity party and invite all of your friends? (I do this on occasion. Great for the soul.) My voice teacher also said :

Success is the best revenge.

Here’s hoping we all get to enjoy our revenge.


M.V.Freeman said...

I loved this post!
It is agonizing to get rejections. For me I go through three cycles: First, there is despair. Second, anger, Third, determination. (And if that does not work, a nice meal with friends and a glass of wine helps!).

So (to paraphrase what you just said) let's hear it for those of us selling Oranges in an Apple world!

Now, speaking of inspiring, I'm off to go write...:)

Karen Beeching said...

Wonderful blog! My response to rejection has changed over the years. No matter how many I get, I try to remember we don't all have the same tastes, and this person just didn't like my voice or whatever. I don't like everything I read either, and that isn't necessarily a bad reflection on the writer. As long as I remember that, I usually take the blow of rejection a little better.

Carla Swafford said...

Not only do I save all my rejections, I keep a spread sheet of them. Got to make sure I don't send the same one to the same editor/agent.

Rejections from agents don't normally bother me. It's the editor ones that I still struggle with. I've found friends can help you get through them. Friends who get them too understand and know just the right things to say.

Louisa Cornell said...

Hey, M.V. ! I like your three cycles and that backup plan of a nice meal and a glass of wine is even better!

Louisa Cornell said...


You completely get it. Once you figure out that it isn't a rejection of you personally, but of your style - which as you said is all a matter of taste - it gets a bit easier to take it.

Louisa Cornell said...

Oh wow, Carla! What a great idea. I have kept all of mine, but I usually have to dig through them when I get ready to submit again. I definitely need to do a spread sheet!

And that is what I love about belonging to groups like this. They understand completely how painful some rejections can be.

Arianna Skye said...

My first rejection came from a nameless agent. She gave me a canned response. It sucked. I got over it and went back to writing. The worst rejection I ever received was from a full request from a contest win. Huh? You asked me to send you the entire manuscript and couldn't even tell me why? That stung. Bad. But I still keep plugging away.

As for crappy contest results, we've all been there. Some judges made good points, some don't know their head from a hole in the ground, and some just have a stick wedged somewhere. The best thing to do is laugh off the absurdities and keep on writing.

Great ablog!

Gillian Layne said...

Yes, it stinks when the rest of the free world doesn't recognize how brilliant our work is...;)

I am a huge fan of chocolate, reading how many times published authors were rejected before their success, and friends!

Louisa Cornell said...

Hey, Arianna!

Ain't it the truth. For the most part I just chalk up to different strokes for different folks. I read constantly and across genres. Some of the most touted authors in romance I just don't get and some of the most overlooked authors in romance I love completely.

The key is to take what is useful from contest results and to file the rest away. What is most important, I think, is to be true to your own voice.

Louisa Cornell said...

LOL, Gillian! Exactly! How can the world not know how brilliant we are?

And chocolate and good friends who understand cannot be beat when it comes to dealing with rejection!

I need to make a list of my favorite authors and how many times they were rejected and post it by my computer.

J. K. Rowlings anyone?
How about Stephen King?

Sarah Tormey said...

Great post! I received two rejections last week. With each rejection I take their feedback and revise my ms. So far, I've found rejection quite helpful, but seeing as I've only just begun my journey that may change. In the interest of full disclosure, before sitting down to rewrite I insisted on pizza from my favorite pizza place and that really seemed to help:)

Gillian Layne said...

Rejected authors? Here's some, Louisa:

Ray Bradbury, over a 1000 (yes, one thousand) in his career.

Judy Blume, rejected for over two years.

Meg Cabot, the Princess Diaries rejected 17 times...

Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time was rejected by 26 publishers

Alex Haley wrote every day for eight years before sellling Roots.

Sherilyn Kenyon--150 rejections!

I'm sure there are hundreds more :)

Vicky said...

Great post, Pamela/Louisa! I have a really unique perspective on rejections - because I have to send them to research vendors! If you're interested, click on the following link to read my thoughts on rejections:

Manda said...

Wonderful blog, Louisa! I love the oranges to apples metaphor--so true. Though I'm afraid that in the current market editors don't seem to want apples OR oranges. Or whatever it is I've got lovingly shined up and stacked in my cart.

I got a rejection of Friday from an agent I queried last May. And I've had an agent since October. Sigh. I suppose I should be glad that they got back to me at all.

You're definitely right not to let rejection get you down. There can be a zillion reasons for rejection in this business that have nothing to do with your writing at all. Plus, you've gotten so much positive feedback it's just a matter of time before you find an agent and editor who love your writing too. You've just got to find the right ones...

Louisa Cornell said...

Ooh, Sarah! I'm going to try that pizza trick. A little comfort food never hurts. And so long as you keep seeing the rejections as helpful in one way or another they'll never get you so far down you can't get up.

Louisa Cornell said...

Wow, Gillian! Great work. I feel better already. Who were the dummies who rejected Sherrilyn Kenyon 150 times??

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks, Vicky. Who knew there were people who were interested in researching rejections. Cool!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks, Manda! How funny that you finally heard back from an agent after you've already acquired one! And you're right about the market being tough for apples, oranges and all fruits in between!

So all we can do is keep hawking our wares and one of these days ....

Arianna Skye said...

Oh, and I thought I would add, I queried the same agent with a different project. A query that's been getting good results. I got the same canned response. So I've scratched that agent off my list completely.

And as for contests, I recently placed in a contest. The editor thought the story was predictable (without a synopsis). Last weekend I pitched the same project to her and she requested a partial. So it pays to be persistent :)

Sandi S. said...

Great blog post!

I've gotten mixed reactions on a few contest entries. And of course rejections by the handful. I keep every single thing anyone has ever said about my writing. Some words hurt more than others. Some make me think I can fly. Never won a contest :-) That's okay.

My biggest motivator? When people tell me I can't do something, won't accomplish xx. It makes me try harder and when I do reach those goals people said were impossible, I smile.

Why is it important to keep going? Late last night I was offered a contract for an historical novel. Most people hated the heroine, the story, said my supporting cast wasn't strong enough. I even had a person say I'd never make it in full length.

So, for me, the revenge of success is coated with chocolate sprinkles.

Keep at it! :-)

Louisa Cornell said...


There is a great deal to be said for persistence! Sometimes that's all you've got, but that is a great deal indeed!

Louisa Cornell said...

Congratulations on your sale, Sandi! That is fantastic. I'm looking forward to reading your book!

And I have to agree. Some comments make you want to crawl under a rock and stay there. Some make you want to quit your day job and do nothing but write.

I have compliments on my writing from Victoria Alexander and Teresa Medeiros. Those particular comments are framed and the one from Ms. Medeiros is even autographed. Those are the words that can give you wings!

Anne Barton said...

Louisa, what a great post. Thanks for the insight and inspiration. Someone is going to snatch you up soon, Pixie-sister. :)

Anonymous said...

You are so right. Many critics try to change you to suit their voice, not your voice. The problem is finding the agent, editor, publisher who gets what you are writing. There was a quote from a Jane Austen letter on one of my loops recently that says it perfectly. She put in a criticism she hadreceived: "There are a few typical errors - & a 'said he' or a 'said she' would
sometimes make the Dialogue more immediately clear." Her answer was,"I do not write for such dull Elves As have not a great deal of Ingenuity themselves." (Jane Austen letter in 1813). I could'nt agree more with Ms. Austen and thank the person who posted this quote. It has made me more determined than ever to write my own voice and style. I hope the rest of you do the same, whatever your genre.
Carol Jo

Louisa Cornell said...

Thank you, Anne!! You are a doll. From your lips to God's ear, my Pixie Sister!

Louisa Cornell said...

What a great quote, Carol Jo! I had not heard that one before, but it is definitely a keeper.

I think that is one of the most difficult things to do - believe in your own voice and don't let even great criticism/suggestions send you off in the wrong direction.

India Carolina said...

Hey, Louisa! Wonderful post! Definitely resonates with all of us. I have to admit that I've let rejection get me down in the past, not always handled it as maturely as others. In fact, I stopped writing for nearly a year (not solely due to rejections, but that was one factor).

Now I'm writing again. And guess what? I pulled out some comments from contests where I hadn't done as well as I'd expected. And amongst those comments, I found some truly helpful suggestions that will change not only the way I'm writing this story, but the way I write all stories. Whew! Long response. Too much coffee!

Louisa Cornell said...

Hello, India! How great to see you here! And I am SO glad to hear you are writing again because you have definitely got a gift!

Even the most negative criticism can be helpful. If all else fails it ticks you off enough to say "I'll show them!"

So get busy on your revenge! I fully expect to see your books in print soon!

Rebecca J. Clark said...

This is an awesome post. I LOVED that quote about oranges. Wow. I'm going to tape that above my computer. You're going to find an editor/agent who loves oranges before you know it.

I hate rejection, but after 15 years of writing, I'm pretty used to it. At first I am upset, then kinda ticked, then "I'll show them!" It is never easy, but you do get used to it. Chocolate never hurts, either.

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks, Rebecca! Fifteen years has got to make you tough enough to take it! Still stings a bit each time I am sure. I love it when I get to that ticked and then "I'll show them!" stage. I do some of my best writing then. I'll bet you do too!

Hey, and chocolate covers a multitude of sins!

Lynn Raye Harris said...

Great post, Louisa!! I know you are one talented Pixie, and I'm positive that good things are coming your way!

I never counted my rejections, and now I wish I had. I still have the good ones, maybe even the form rejections too. There are probably 20 to 25, I'll guess. They all stung, though probably the ones where someone actually requested the work and then rejected it when I had such high hopes were the worst.

Last summer, with my Presents win and my GH final under my belt, I queried an agent who TO THIS DAY has not replied. In the meantime, I signed with an agent on my A-list, and sold two books. And we're going back to contract for more. :)

Never, never, never give up is what I always say. Love your attitude about rejection, btw. This is why I know you will be successful. :)

Louisa Cornell said...

Hello, Lynn!

Isn't it amazing how long some of these agents take to reply. Then again I think it is fate telling you that agent is just NOT the right person for you. I've kept all my rejections, but the best one I ever got was from an agent who sent a three page rejection letter. She said turning the manuscript down was one of the hardest decisions she'd ever made. She made suggestions as to how the improve the manuscript and asked that I resubmit if I decided to revise the book. That rejection has definitely kept me going!

Keira Soleore said...

Louisa, what an excellent post. You're courageous beyond belief and I can't wait to see your book on a shelf in my neighborhood bookstore.

Louisa Cornell said...

Keira! How good to see you. You are so sweet! And right back at you my friend!

Paula said...

I sometimes think that those of us who experience rejection year after year are better equipped to handle success than those who manage to get a yes the first time out and then have no idea how to handle it when times get tougher. So I tend to wear all my rejections like badges of honor--I've worked hard, persevered and paid my dues.

Not that I wouldn't have liked to try being the one who makes it big first time out, mind you... :)

Louisa Cornell said...

LOL Paula. Yes, making it the first time WOULD be nice. What is they say "Please God, let me show you that being a bestselling author WON'T spoil me!"

And you are so right. My father said character is what you get when you don't get what you want. I have a great t-shirt that says Rejection builds character. And it does if you let it.

Christine said...

Thank you for making this Wednesday's possible ax of doom more bearable!

I keep saying to myself: 7 years, 10 books. Or is it 10 years, 7 books? or is it when I finally hit 50? I don't know. I just keep pluggin along and tell myself... one day one day one day...