It Only Takes One ‘Yes’

If you submit your writing for publication you will, someday, receive a rejection letter. It’s inevitable. If you haven’t gotten one yet, you either haven’t submitted enough or you are the next coming of Ernest Hemingway who, by the way, received a rejection slip for The Sun Also Rises. The 1924 publisher’s rebuff called his writing “both tedious and offensive.”

When I first started submitting my work, I saved all my rejection letters. A few years ago, realizing how horrifically unhealthy this habit was, I spent a therapeutic afternoon shredding the entire folder – except for one letter.

The sole survivor was a note that stung badly when I first received it. Now, years later, I can laugh at its bold insult. The letter was a blurry photocopy which the rejecter “personalized” by handwriting my name after the typed “Dear.” My favorite line reads: We are sorry to tell you that we cannot publish your work now or in the foreseeable future.

The foreseeable future? That seemed so cruel, almost threatening.

The snub could have knocked me to my knees. I could have sworn off writing forever. Instead, I remembered the advice a college professor had given me years earlier: It only takes one “yes.” He’d convinced me that my writing was strong enough that if someone didn’t want the book or article I was pitching, it was actually a blessing. I hadn’t yet reached the right editor or publication. If I believed in my work, I had to keep trying to find the right match. He was right.

Don’t believe me? Let me share this story about my friend, author Garth Stein:

Garth and I were both teaching writing part time at a Tacoma, Wash., high school back in around 2000-2001. We met one evening after a student event to have a beer and talk with another author friend. Garth, who’d already enjoyed critical success with his first two novels, was frustrated that his agent had told him she was taking a pass on his new manuscript.

He went on to describe the project: An adult novel told from a dog’s point of view.

The notion seemed pretty crazy and our third friend and I delicately suggested maybe the agent was correct. Could the book be reoriented?

No, insisted Garth. This was a good project, he just needed to find the right agent and editor. He believed that strongly in his work.

He was right. He found a new agent – one who shared his love of his manuscript. The resulting book, The Art of Racing in the Rain, was released in 2008 and has since sold more than 4 million copies in 35 languages. The book has spent more than three years on the New York Times bestseller list and is in development with Universal Studies for a major motion picture. Imagine if Garth had given in to rejection…

Getting a “No” shouldn’t mean “The End.” If you believe in yourself and your project, you must keep plugging along. Keep looking for the right match. If not now, perhaps the market will change in a year or two. Try again.

Above all, remember: It only takes one “Yes.”

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