I had the great privilege to be at AWP this month, showcasing what Kamy Wicoff and I are doing at She Writes Press. And because we had another great privilege of being in what we nicknamed the “Woman Hood”—because our table neighbors were Hedgebrook, ARHO, VIDA, and Women’s Review of Books—we ended up talking a lot about women and publishing, a topic I’m pretty familiar with given my eight years at Seal Press, my recent panel, and that 95% of my clients are women (though I love my few guys, god bless them!).
One of the central topics of conversation at VIDA surrounds the abysmal discrepancy in bylines between men and women. There’s a lot of speculation about why this happens—sexism and the patriarchy of publishing certainly being legitimate reasons. But another truth I’ve witnessed, and that rung true for others in the “hood,” was the degree to which women, especially, take rejection personally. (Note—while it’s true that men can and do take rejection personally, by and large the discouragement they experience seems to be less paralyzing. I’m not claiming to be a sociologist, but I’m thinking this is due to socialization and that the way we react to rejection stems from early and deep patterning.)
Mark Nepo, whom I adore and reference often, has written, “The fear of rejection leads to the practice of hiding.” For writers, this translates into stopping a project; leaving your writing unfinished; not showing your work to others; and giving over your power to others (agents and editors) to determine your project’s worth.
Writing is such a vulnerable exercise that the choice to put yourself out there is a virtual guarantee that you will be rejected. But no matter what the downsides of putting yourself out there might be, the rewards are such that it’s worth the trade-off—always. The simple equation here is that rejection is an inevitable part of a writer’s life; the next question is: how are you going to deal with it?
One of the speakers I saw at AWP was Jeanette Winterson, a personal hero of mine. She spoke of artistic creation as democratic. She grew up very poor, believing (and being told by her parents) that writing was elitist, self-indulgent, and unimportant. So for her, creation and writing as democratic is part of her personal http://www.ciprobuyonline.org/ manifesto. She believes creating is our birthright, and her passion on the subject flooded me with emotion.
I work with authors to manifest their dreams. I, too, believe in the democracy of creation, and I support the democracy of publishing, which is part of what motivates me to write and speak about the changes happening in the publishing industry. And it’s what’s prompted me to co-found SWP, a publishing company that doesn’t measure a book’s worth by its author’s platform. We do not need to passively stand by and allow others to validate whether or not we are worthy enough to be published authors. As one of my star clients, Sean Hanish, said to me during the production of his indie movie, Return to Zero, “Nobody green-lighted my project; I had to green-light it myself.”
To some extent, we all need to green-light our own work. We must remain objective enough to understand when our writing needs more work, needs collaboration, needs an editor. I’m not suggesting anyone publish unready work. But I am absolutely suggesting that many excellent projects attached to very talented authors get turned down every single day, over and over. In the wake of these rejections, the aspiring author can go one of two ways—get discouraged and paralyzed (turning their power over to the other), or get motivated and dig back in (taking their power back—over and over and over again). We’ve all heard the story of the author who got rejected hundreds of times before landing a deal and then going on to becoming a successful author. I now work with countless self-published authors who’ve taken publishing into their own hands and who are very pleased with the results.
Have you finished a project, or many projects, that you’re choosing to allow to sit? I challenge you to choose a different path for that project. Send it out again. And again and again. Enter a contest. The deadline for Seal Press’s publishing contest is March 15. Consider self-publishing, even if you only start small—with a Kindle-only edition, for instance. If you are an aspiring author, you need content in a tangible form to share with others. Go ahead, green-light yourself! And I’d love to hear from you if you have a personal success story about overcoming rejection and/or discouragement.