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The Benefits of Rejection

I was shopping a novel unsuccessfully when I stumbled on news that a fellow writing conference attendee had gotten a book deal. I remembered her pithy entry in the conference's three-sentence writing competition and I wasn't surprised at all. This woman has skills. Turned out we share a mutual friend, and eventually I met her. After I congratulated her, she asked me how I was doing. I told her no dice on the manuscript. She flattered me by admitting she had six or seven—I can't remember the exact number—in the drawer. What a relief, I thought. I'm not the only one. Then she said something that I firmly believed but never heard anyone have the courage to admit. "Whatever skills I've developed are a function of learning from my prior mistakes. If one of those earlier manuscripts had been published, who knows if I ever would have published a second one."

As writers, courage and passion propel us forward. The more we write, the more criticism we receive from worthy sources, the more our craft improves. I'm a big fan of self-publishing. It's an invaluable distribution tool in the writer's chest. It's not better or worse than the traditional model. It's different. The writer who exploits all avenues with no bias stands the best chance of distributing his books optimally.

But self-pubbing one's first or second novel may be a big mistake. An "I'll show them" mentality may be nothing more than self-deception. I cringe at the thought of my first manuscript having been published. Whether I'm a compelling storyteller and a competent writer or not, there is simply no comparison between my craft then and now. You do anything every day for ten years and you're going to improve. It's as simple as that.

The hardest thing for a fiction writer to learn to deal with is the word "no." "No" comes in many forms. The most brutal one is not in the letter from the agent. It's the one implied by the red ink all over the first twenty pages of his novel from a competent writer's critique. But without that red ink, how can a writer improve his craft?

Self-pubbing can do away with all the red ink. It can lessen the writer's emotional pain. In doing so, it puts writers at risk of losing the benefits of rejection. And that may be worse than rejection itself.

© Orest Stelmach

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