September 10, 2010
by Deborah Atherton

September is here, and it’s that time of year for many of us – time to send out proposals, time to submit our work to editors or galleries or agents or producers.  I’ve been sending out my work for many years, and no matter how many positive responses I’ve received, it’s the negative ones that stick with me.  The power of positive thinking seems to shrivel when confronted with my deep distaste for handing my work over to someone else to accept or reject.

Why does one rejection send us into a spiral of misery? One of my favorite positive psychologists, Tal Ben-Shahar, has something to say about that:  “When we fail to attain a desired outcome, we often extrapolate from that experience the belief that we have no control over our lives or over certain parts of it. That thinking leads to despair.”

Despair describes the feeling I get on opening an envelope with yet another rejection slip pretty perfectly.  But how can we combat it, that feeling that no one will ever be interested in the work that takes up all the waking minutes we might otherwise be more profitably spending on, say, actually making a profit?

Habit. It just has to be a habit.  We have to know that despite the ten rejections we got this month, we are going to send out ten more poems, or sets of slides, or CDs, next month.  Our creative work sometimes has to wait on inspiration; our submission of it can not.  If we send out a piece this month, and wait for the response, we most likely won’t be sending out a piece next month.  (For one thing, NOBODY will get back to you in just a month.)

It takes 30 days for a habit to take root within us; and, honestly, if you’ve had years of haphazard submissions and rejections, it is probably going to take longer than that.  Writers’ Relief, the selective writers submission service, tells us that for writers (and these are all writers who are copyedited and can spell), 1 in 99 submissions is accepted.  (I don’t have statistics on other art forms, but observation tells me this is pretty close to what composers, visual artists, and others face.)

So that’s the story, folks.  Maybe you can assign one otherwise depressing Monday night a month to gritting your teeth and shipping out your work.  Maybe, if you’ve got a strong stomach, you can do it more often than that. But if it doesn’t become a habit, it won’t get done at all.

And just think how wonderful you’ll feel the day following your 99th rejection when you get that email or note or phone call saying: you’re in!

And now that you’ve made a habit, you won’t let that stop you either (unless of course this is your magnum opus, and its acceptance means your life work is done) on the next appointed Monday, when you will send your work out again.


Who are We Writing For?

July 23, 2009
99 out of 100

99 out of 100

Posted by Deborah Atherton

All creative writers, no matter what their genre or area of interest, get a little caught up in the issue of how salable our ideas are. It’s a very tricky and emotional topic, and writers vary widely in their viewpoints. There are writers on one end of the spectrum who say, “I won’t write it unless someone will pay me for it!” And the writers who take the opposite position will tell you, “Money doesn’t influence me at all. I write for myself.”

Although both sides believe deeply in their position, I suspect that even the most successful commercial writer has limits to the tampering he or she will allow editors for the sake of sales. And however pure the intent of the artist who writes not for the audience, but for him or herself, I sincerely doubt that artist would turn down a check for the finished product.

Gail wrote a lovely children’s board book in response to a perceived market need. She went about it really intelligently, researching the market, finding the right prospective publishers, and soliciting one with a very satisfactory query letter. However, probably in the meantime, the publisher had put out a book on the same subject. This was Gail’s first professional submission, and even though she’d done absolutely everything right, it didn’t work out, and she naturally became discouraged.

The very difficult truth is that 99 out of 100 submissions to editors or agents are rejected, which may mean that you have to submit your work repeatedly before it is accepted. That’s a lot of “no thank yous” for our psyches to accept. It’s really really hard to have something you’ve worked on and know is good turned down for purely market reasons.

But because Gail is a good and committed writer, she may decide (with a little coaching!) not only to submit her book to more publishers, but to think about writing a new one – maybe one that comes first from her own passionate interests and ideas.