On Rejection and Thick Skin

Back in November, after eight years of writing, I finally began querying. Querying is the process by which a budding young writer enters into writer adulthood by hunting the mythical creature known as the literary agent. Here’s how it goes:

Writer: “Dear Agent Person,

I think you’re rad and that you’ll like my book. It’s about Ladyface who wants to open a rescue for socially awkward unicorns. But Poophead Evil Villain has vowed to stop her. If Ladyface fails, she’ll lose her amazing lady face and be forced to wander the earth a faceless non-lady. It will appeal to fans of Other Author who writes books about ladies with faces.

Sincerely,

Writer Person”

Literary Agent: “Hello Writer,

Thanks so much for the opportunity to consider your work! Unfortunately, this project isn’t right for me, but I wish you the best of luck in your writing endeavors and in finding representation!

Best,

Agent Person”

That is a professional and kind form letter. It’s quite lovely. It’s also one I actually received from an agent. This is how that kind and thoughtful rejection letter actually felt:

Writer: “Here, I made this for you. It’s a piece of my heart, and I’ve slaved over it for years. There is so much of me in this. Please love it. Please love my heart and give it a home and–”

Literary Agent: “NO. I HATE YOUR HEART. HEARTS ARE DUMB.”

It doesn’t matter how kind an agent is, rejection letters still hurt like hell. And I don’t blame the agents–they’re doing their job. I like agents, I think they’re great. I don’t unfollow them on Twitter if they reject me, or heap curses on their names, or hope they have ugly pets. But the process to get one is not my favorite.

I received my first rejection letter three days after sending it out. It was not from one of my top agents. I appreciated that and the fact that it came so quickly. But it still hurt. Big time. I was at the gym, so I turned on my pump up music and got super into my elliptical workout. Then, I figured out what I did wrong and improved my query letter.

I felt a lot of better, so I called my CP Christine. She told me she was impressed by my thick skin. I thought long and hard about Christine’s comment.

Here’s the thing: in the writing world, they always say you need to have thick skin to survive.

Here’s the other thing: I don’t have thick skin. I guess it depends how you define it. To me, thick skin is letting negativity and comments roll off your back. You may take note of them, or you may not, but you don’t let them affect you emotionally. You don’t let them hurt you. My husband has thick skin. He is the Unflappable Kurt. He hears criticism, he’ll decide whether he needs to follow it or not, and he’s done. Someone hurts his feelings… actually, no one hurts his feelings.  He has feelings, but the plebes can’t touch them. He’s a rock, I tell you.

I do not have thick skin. I have cried over critiques and criticism. More than once. I get riled when someone is rude to me. I don’t feel all the time, but when I do, I feel deeply. My emotions can be so strong, it scares me sometimes. I emote like I do everything else–one hundred freaking percent.

So, no, I definitely do not have thick skin.

Here’s what I do have: the ability to pick myself up. To learn from my mistakes. To put on my pump up jams, punish my legs on the elliptical, and resolve to keep going. Individually, those rejections don’t hurt, not anymore. Collectively, they’re rocking my world a bit. But I won’t quit.

And, I’m good with this. I don’t want to develop a true thick skin. It took me a long time to learn vulnerability, in life and in my writing. And guess what? My stories improved dramatically when I finally embraced it. I don’t know if I ever could have thick skin and still maintain that vulnerability, that ability to throw my heart on the page then offer it to a stranger in the hope that they’ll find beauty in it.

One day, when I’m a published author, I may change my tune. I may join them in enumerating the benefits of thick skin. And then I’ll look at this post and think how naive I was, all those years ago. But vulnerability is laying your heart out without knowing what will come of it. It’s saying, This is me. I won’t apologize for it. I may not be right, I may be messy, but I’m okay with you seeing that.

I choose vulnerability.

And I won’t ever give up.

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