Several weeks ago, I picked up a book called Broken Blade, by Kelly McCullough. It was the story of Aral Kingslayer, once a remarkable warrior for justice, but now, since the downfall of his goddess and her temple, Aral has become a broken drunk living on the edges of society and taking any job that falls his way just to earn enough money for his next drink. Until a mysterious woman hires him to deliver a secret message that might be just the thing that will redeem him. I bought it because it sounded like a fun read, but it turned out to be far more than that. This character and his companions are so well-crafted, and the world so vividly drawn, I could hardly put the book down until I turned the last page. I immediately found Kelly McCullough’s Facebook, probably terrified him a little with my fangirlish behavior, and convinced him to come here and be our guest. Please welcome Kelly McCullough!
Lets talk about every writer’s favorite topic – rejection! If you are a writer, and like most of the rest of us, you will have piled up a not inconsiderable heap of them over the years. I personally have something between four and five hundred. I had ninety by the time I sold my first short story more than eight years after I started submitting my work. And, while I have a new novel out from Ace this month, a fantasy noir called Crossed Blades, which will be released by on November 27th, I continue to pile up the rejections. At this point, I’ve published or sold something like thirty short stories, several poems, and ten novels, and still I get rejections on a regular basis. I get fewer these days and I tend to get them much faster than I used to—one of the benefits of having an established name is that people tell me they don’t want a piece much faster than they used to. And how do all those rejections make me feel?
No, really. Perhaps the most valuable and sanity saving lesson I learned when I was starting out and hadn’t yet sold a damned thing, was how to celebrate the small triumphs and how to use them as motivation to become a better and stronger writer. Does that mean that I don’t feel a little punch in the gut every time I get a rejection? Of course it doesn’t. Rejections hurt, there are no two ways around that. They especially hurt in that first moment when you open the envelope or the email. It’s what you do next that determines how much and how long they hurt.
Mostly, what I do, is celebrate. Take myself out to dinner, have a small drink of the good Scotch, treat myself to a fancy chai, etc. I can hear the coming question out there. Why on Earth are you celebrating rejection?
Because rejection means that you’re in the game. It means that you started a piece. Whether that be a poem, a short story, a novel, a script, or what have you, that’s farther than a ton of people who say that they want to be writers ever get. Seriously. How many people do you know who, when you tell them that you’re a writer, say something like “I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I never…”? I’m betting it’s a lot. It means that not only did you start a piece, you finished one. Again, that’s farther than many get. Not only did you finish it, you polished it enough to feel all right about sending it out to an editor. Then, you actually went ahead and hit send or put it in the mail. Do you know how incredibly brave that is? It’s huge.
What a rejection means is not that you’ve failed, or that you’re a terrible person, or that you wrote something awful. It means that you are a writer. It also means that that particular piece didn’t work for that market on that day, but more than anything, it means that you are a writer. And if that’s not worth celebrating, I don’t know what is. It took me eight years to get from the place where I started writing and submitting pieces to my first short story sale. It took six more to sell a novel. I had two come out last year and two this year, and already have one scheduled for next year, and another for the year after that pending signatures on the contract. I’ve written eighteen novels, of which nine have sold so far. I wrote seven of those before I made my first novel sale—number four for the curious. At this point in my life, I make things up and write them down for a living, and the way I got here was by persevering through a hell of a lot of rejections. Making each one into a reason to celebrate was an incredibly valuable coping tool in that process.
So, next time you get a rejection, don’t just look at the cold fact that it wasn’t a sale. Look at what it means.
You are a writer. Celebrate it.
Kelly McCullough was raised and educated by free-range hippies. Later he received a degree in theater and worked in improv. That combination was the perfect preparation for his current career as author and cat herder. He lives and writes in the Midwest with his physics-professor wife, Laura. He enjoys hiking and biking and his role as self-heating cat furniture.
The Fallen Blade Series:
Broken Blade (Penguin/ACE ISBN 1937007081)
Bared Blade (Penguin/ACE ISBN 1937007677)
Crossed Blades (Penguin/ACE Forthcoming 2012)
Blade Reforged (Penguin/ACE Forthcoming 2013)
The WebMage Series:
WebMage (Penguin/ACE ISBN 0441014259)
Cybermancy (Penguin/ACE ISBN 0441015387)
Codespell (Penguin/ACE ISBN 0441016030)
MythOS (Penguin/ACE ISBN 044101724X)
SpellCrash (Penguin/ACE ISBN 0441018882)