Monday, May 3, 2010

Cowgirl Up: Courage to Face Rejections

“Cowgirl up” is an expression that means to rise to the occasion, not to give up, and to do it all without making excuses.

This phrase resonates with me since the inspiration for my first novel was my cowgirl grandmother. To me, it means having the courage to do the hard thing, to follow your dream. You don’t have to have a horse, live on a ranch or in the West to “cowgirl up.”

So far, in these columns, I’ve talked about finding the courage to write and then to share your writing with others. As an extension of that, this month’s topic is on having the courage to submit your manuscript to agents or publishers and being prepared to receive those dreaded rejections.

Any time you put your writing out there, you are going to be rejected. It’s extremely rare that a first-time writer submits a manuscript and is accepted on the first try. Sometimes I wonder if we writers are all masochists, because we continually set ourselves up for criticism and rejection.

But, if helps to take the view that rejections are good. They are a necessary and productive part of getting published, and you can learn from them. Any time you get a rejection with a personal note or suggestion from the agent or editor, consider that a gift as good as gold.

When I first started to submit my fiction, I decided I would TRY to collect 100 rejections. I had heard that several big-name authors had received that many or more (Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, authors of the Chicken Soup series received 144 rejections before they were published). I thought if I made a game out of it, perhaps that would take the sting out of those form letter “No, thank you” rejections.

OK, I admit, it still hurt a bit. But I could say to myself, “That’s just one No closer to a Yes.” I collected a total of 36 rejections on all of my fiction and 17 for my first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, before it was picked up by Treble Heart Books.

Before you even start sending out your queries, make a list of potential agents and/or publishers. It’s permissible these days, unless their guidelines say otherwise, to simultaneously submit queries to several at a time. As soon as you get a “no,” send it out to the next on your list.

Just for fun (and encouragement) here are some examples of famous rejections:
In 1889, the San Francisco Examiner sent a rejection letter to Rudyard Kipling, telling him he did not know how to use the English Language.

George Orwell, Animal Farm, 1945, was told, “It is impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A.”
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925: “Mr. F. Scott Fitzgerald deserves a good shaking …The Great Gatsby is an absurd story, whether considered as romance, melodrama, or plain record of New York high life.” – Saturday Review of Literature

Stephen King received many rejections on Carrie. One said, “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” King says in his book On Writing “…the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and kept on writing.”

Thankfully, they didn’t listen to all those negative reviews and rejections. If they had, we wouldn’t have their wonderful works today. So, maybe the rejections we’ve had don’t seem quite so bad anymore!
Think of publishing as a business. Think of it in business terms. People selling their homes do not expect everyone who breezes through their house to like what they see, let alone make an offer. It’s a long, hard process, but if you keep at it long enough, the odds shift in your favor.

So, "Cowgirl Up" and start submitting (after you've polished your work and had it edited by a reputable editor, like those of us at the Blood Red Pencil, of course)!
A native Montanan, Heidi Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. She has had her first novel published, Cowgirl Dreams, based on her grandmother. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.

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  1. “Cowgirl up”—what a fun saying. I think you offered some excellent advice here. I’m glad you didn’t have to collect all 100 rejections or put a spike on the wall like Stephen King before finding a publisher. I wonder what the reviewer who wrote the Great Gatsby review would think about its ‘classic’ status today.

  2. Yes, Jane, isn't it funny to read some of those old rejections for the classics?! Makes us feel not quite so alone.

  3. It never gets any easier no matter how philosophical one becomes about the process; but we have to. ;-)

    Love this photo of you Heidi.

    Blood-Red Pencil

  4. Yes, if you don't submit, you don't have a chance!

    Morgan Mandel

  5. Great words of encouragement. There will be a lot of us thinking "cowgirl up" as we go through the submission process.

    I'm looking for an agent to represent my humorous memoir and just got a rejection in which the agent referred to me as a "delightful writer." That bolstered me enough to get another query off the next day.

  6. A very inspiring blog post. If I took all of my rejections over the years, I'm sure I could wallpaper a good-sized room! You certainly have to have "try" to stay in this business--and writer friends who understand the craziness of what you're doing.

  7. Is it smart to go through a you pay upfront publisher?

  8. Martha, many writers are opting to self-publish for many reasons. I would advise you to thoroughly research the publishing options before you put out a lot of money. Some are the old "vanity publishers" who take your money, promise to make you into a best-seller and then don't do a thing for you.

    On the other hand, no matter who publishes your book these days, you should be prepared to do at least 90 percent of your own marketing.

  9. I love the "cowgirl up" saying, Heidi. I'll tuck that into my memory bank for the next rejection! Another story is about Norman McLean, the Montana writer of A River Runs Through It. Knopf rejected it saying, "There are too many trees in it." And of course, it is now a classic. Nice column, and encouraging. Thanks!


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.