Old Friends and New Enemies

Owen Mullen

Guest Post: Rejection by Owen Mullen

I always have the same reaction to rejection. I take it personally. And since it seems to be the story of almost every writer I have ever heard of, becoming an author wasn’t perhaps the best decision.

Rejection – and we hear this all the time – is part of the publishing process. Accept it they say. Learn from it. Usually this advice comes from people it isn’t happening to. Don’t they realise just how devastating it can be. In Old Friends and New Enemies, Glasgow PI Charlie Cameron sums it up. Charlie says, ‘Big boys don’t cry. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to.’

Believe me I’ve wanted to plenty of times.

Creating anything requires courage and commitment, even before you get to the bit about talent, and of course it is an invitation for others to criticise; that’s understood. Learning to play the piano really badly can and probably will take years. When you are writing a book you pour yourself into the thing for months, trusting you are producing something worthwhile [‘cause who sets out to write a bad book?] until the day you type the final sentence. Then you send your child out into the world and wait to see who is prepared to give the waif a home. So often the answer is: very few. Some give the kid a good kicking and send him home in tears. Others treat him a lot worse than that.

I thought I was prepared for rejection. I was wrong. The first letter telling me that ‘after due consideration my book didn’t fit their list’ was like a punch in the gut. I got over it just in time for somebody else to kick me and my book into touch.

And so it began.

After a while I got used to it. [that’s a lie, I didn’t] What I won’t ever get used to is just how rude people can be. For example: I sent a manuscript to an agent who passed it on to a colleague without letting me know. Months went by. One day I got an email from the colleague, a woman, apologising for not getting in touch sooner and promising to start reading at once.

‘No problem,’ I replied. ‘You’re on it now. Hope you enjoy it.’

Six months later she wrote back. ‘A thousand times sorry. Started it last night.’

‘Okay,’ I said, ‘Speak soon.’

I waited. And waited. And waited.

And never heard from her again.

That’s one kind of rejection, another is what comes back from people who just didn’t like what you’ve done. Or people who want to write your book for you. Loads of them about. There will be others who love your stuff and pour lavish praise on you, and it’s tempting to want to think that must be the truth. Because it suits us, doesn’t it.

This is where it gets complicated; impossible though it may be to see it in the heat of the moment, sometimes the criticism will be justified. Only when we step back from the emotion of it can we identify the truth. When that happens, it presents an opportunity to improve that a writer should welcome. For me the objective isn’t to be right, it’s to be good.

Never forget, whether they think you are the cat’s meow, just so-so, or have produced the worst book of all time, it is only somebody’s opinion. And they’re entitled.

Perhaps Kipling had writers in mind when he wrote this:

‘If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same.’

Right on Rudyard!

My advice: get your thick skin on, keep an open mind and don’t stop writing.