Rejection as a group experience

rejectLast weekend, after receiving two rejections from literary agents within twenty-four hours, I felt discouraged.

I decided that if I was discouraged after only a few rejections, I’d better learn how to prepare for more. So what do the mental health experts say about rejection and perseverance? Mostly, they don’t say anything, focusing instead on social rejection. This is what happens when friends, romantic partners or  children on the school playground push you away.

Social rejection is hard on all of us. Psychologist Naomi Eisenberger, uses “behavioral, physiological, and neuroimaging techniques to understand how the human need for social connection has left its mark on our minds, brains, and bodies.” A Psychology Today article summarizes her findings. People who experience social rejection speak of it in the same way they speak of physical pain. Run through a few popular song lyrics and you’ll find many obsessing over broken hearts and other kinds of pain. It’s interesting then that according to Eisenberger’s research, “rejection piggybacks on physical pain pathways in the brain.”  The same places in the brain activated by physical pain are activated by rejection. Even more intriguing is that one treatment for physical pain, Tylenol, also “reduces the emotional pain rejection elicits.”

Interesting as it was, information on social rejection wasn’t what I needed. What about other kinds? I found one study that fit my situation best. “University of Pennsylvania sociologist Junhow Wei finds that despite rejection and statistically minuscule chances of success, [American] Idol contestants often accept loss and plan to return and audition again. Rejected contestants believe perseverance is reasonable because their interactions with producers and peers convince them that they are talented and can still excel in the future.”

I subscribe to a daily a blog for writers in which five novelists share the responsibilities for posting. Each of these received 50, 100, or more rejections before finding an agent, so I accept their regular words of encouragement that remind writers like me that we belong to a large and connected group of “rejectees.”

These writers find endless ways to assure others that rejections arrive as often as rainstorms in Seattle, and that good publishing contracts for new authors spring up about as often as leap year comes around, but, they emphasize, these are not reasons to give up. I think at some point, there will be reasons for me to give up, not writing but seeking fame and fortune (joke) as a published author. Getting really sick of my story would be one of them.

So how do these persevering bloggers help? Their most important contribution is letting you know you’re not alone. Recently, I commented on one of their posts, saying it was timely given my recent rejections, and the author replied, “Good luck in your querying, Ann, and remember it’s a process! Send a silent prayer of thanks to those who have already passed on your manuscript, for releasing you so you can find its true advocate.”

I read another blog in which the writer set the goal of receiving 200 rejections. Reverse psychology I guess, but an approach that pushes him to keep sending out queries even while he’s in the midst of receiving no-thank-you emails.

I sent my third rejection to my writer friends and others, and all responded with supportive comments. The rejection itself was quite nice. “Please remember that this is a highly subjective business, and another agent may well have the right vision for this project, so I encourage you to keep querying and honing your craft. In fact, if you want to go ahead and query one of my colleagues… that is fine with me.”

I am surrounded by so much support that although I will continue to feel a pang as each new rejection arrives, I don’t have to feel sad for long. And if that isn’t encouragement enough to keep going, I can always take two Tylenol and go to bed.




About stillalife

I retired June 30, 2010 after working for 40 years in the field of education and most recently doing school public relations/community outreach in a mid-size urban school district. I wrote for superintendents and school board members. Now I'm writing for me and I hope for you. In this blog, I offer my own views coupled with the latest research on how to preserve our physical and mental health as we age, delve into issues most of us over 50 can relate to like noticing wrinkles and forgetting where we left our keys, discuss the pros and cons of different ways to engage our minds and bodies after we leave the workplace, and throw in an occasional book review, all peppered with a touch of humor, irony, and just plain silliness. Also, I'm on the third draft of my second novel since retirement.
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3 Responses to Rejection as a group experience

  1. emilylainajones says:

    I know the feeling, and somehow rejection of writing is so much more personal than rejection from a master’s program you didn’t really want. Maybe it is because I feel as if someone is looking me directly in the face and saying my most inner thoughts and motivations are not interesting or intelligent enough. These are just my insecurities getting the better of me of course. I imagine literary rejections are based upon estimated financial gain and mostly driven by the same magical weather prediction models that give us random guessing with quasi science backing it up. But from the risk perspective I suppose it is easier to support something similar to another success than going out on a limb for something different. And now we have a bunch of terrible vampire and zombie books…thanks for jumping on that bandwagon writing agents of the world.

  2. ann oxrieder says:

    You’ve hit on it. The only good news is that these trends don’t last forever. Last summer I heard an agent say to a guy pitching a zombie story, “We got burned with too many zombies. We’re never accepting a zombie story again.”

  3. Barbara de Michele says:

    When I read the title of this piece, I thought perhaps you were writing about the “group rejection” being experienced by us older female fans of Hillary. Reading through the vitriolic comments on Facebook from Trump and Sanders supporters — which I must stop doing — confirms that hatred against women, particularly old women and accomplished women and women who deign to have opinions, is as common as dust and as strong as ever. Perhaps it’s a healthy reminder, since at my age it would be easy to lull myself into the belief that there’s been progress. At any rate, I urge you to think of Hillary weathering the last 40 years the next time one of those nasty rejection notices rolls in.

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