My biggest difficulty as a writer is not producing material, but in giving material to other people. Right now I have a book draft and a book proposal, and the next step is to send it to someone. I can do that now—sending it to publishers or agents—or I can put that off and self-publish. But even self-publishing involves trying to get someone to read your work, and risks rejection. (Update: the proposal was sent before posting.)
I don’t relish rejection, and I assume that you don’t either. But sometimes it’s necessary to take a chance, and if you are uncomfortable with rejection, as I am, it can be useful to look at what there is to celebrate about rejection.
As a writer, rejection presupposes an accomplishment: I can’t have a work rejected without finishing that work--without making a commitment to giving a draft to someone else (and thus a commitment to stop working on the darn thing). I absolutely should celebrate finishing both the draft and the proposal. Writing an entire book draft is a real accomplishment for me—something I’ve managed to do only twice before on my own (counting my dissertation in addition my book on dissertation writing)—and so, finishing a draft of a new book is something to celebrate, and finishing a book proposal even more so, because I find the book proposal much harder to write than the book. The proposal is all about acceptance/rejection. When I’m working on the book, it’s about helping people, which feels good. When I’m working on the proposal, it’s about getting my book accepted which doesn't feel nearly as good. Anyway, the proposal is finished (and now sent). I’m not going to rework it any more. It’s going to fly or crash on the merit of what is there now.
The well-known principle “you can’t win if you don’t play,” is important here. But the principle presupposes that you can play: in the metaphorical poker game of manuscript submission, I have something to ante into the pot. I certainly ought to celebrate that good fortune (not really good fortune, but the product of a lot of consistent effort over several years). I already believe in the value of working hard, so I don’t begrudge that past effort, but rather view the effort with some pride, even if no one ever reads my book.
I don’t entirely look forward to reworking my proposal for a new agent or publisher, so that aspect of possible rejection is not awesome. But the book process would hardly be over, even if I had a great response on my proposal. Getting accepted would almost certainly carry with it some specific requests for revision and for other information. The publication process would eventually require proofreading, too. So rejection doesn’t radically change the necessary effort. And, realistically, I like writing as work: it’s often frustrating, but I feel that the more I work at it, the greater are the rewards in proportion to the effort.
Submitting a proposal—whether accepted or rejected—is not the end of the process, but it is a real landmark. If bringing a book to publication is a road race, this is a significant milepost—it’s the halfway point, at least. And just as I would celebrate the halfway point in a road race, I can celebrate hitting this mark.
If you worry about how your work will be accepted, I understand. I worry about how my work is accepted, too. It’s natural. But rejection is only part of a larger picture, and in that larger picture—the picture of a person working on a piece of writing—the rejection is a real sign of accomplishment. That’s what I told myself as I geared up to hit “send” on my proposal.
Now that I have sent the e-mail, a difficult period of waiting for a response begins. To help support my mood through that wait, I’m going to celebrate my accomplishments so far.