Thursday, January 12, 2012

On Rejections and Toilet Cleaning

On this fabulous Thursday night, I thought I'd talk about rejections.

They don't feel good, but if you're a writer who has queried extensively, you know they're part of the biz. We writers develop thick skin. Our critique partners give us feedback, bloody their nails on our books, and we take it with a smile and a thank you.

Then we get rejections from agents, rejections from editors, rejections on paper, rejections by email.

Even at conferences our books are often flayed alive.

And we survive ... killing our darlings, making our characters' lives miserable, putting in long hours in front of a lighted screen.

It's a bloody game.

You'd better believe my skin is thick. I feel like I can take any critique from anybody at any time. I will not shed a tear. Go ahead and reject me. You may make me sad for a day, but you will not make me sad for a week. I'm a survivor. I'm not gonna give up....


Well, now I have to tell you an embarrassing story.

I entered a local talent show a while back. I was singing with a friend of mine. Another friend was accompanying us on guitar.

I knew my singing friend was coming straight from work to the audition, so I didn't dress up.  (He showed up in a Superman t-shirt, so it's a good thing I didn't wear my evening gown.) I put on my favorite shirt, yes, and my jean capris and thought I looked pretty artsy-fartsy, like many a hip song artist I've seen on MTV.

Because my friend had to go back to work, we were the first to perform. We gave it our best. My friend has an amazing voice, I won't lie, and I was doing harmony. We finished a capella and I thought we did a pretty good job. Our guitarist gave us a thumbs up.

There were three judges sitting below us, scribbling extensive notes.

This is what the first one said to me:  "Excuse me, what are you wearing? It looks like you're about to go clean your toilet."

Guys, seriously, it has taken me this long to post about this experience because it has taken me this long to recover. And honestly, I don't know if I have recovered. That rejection made me feel horrible.* Even now I shudder.

And I wonder, what went wrong with my thick skin?

But you know, several days after this catastrophe, I actually stopped being offended long enough to analyze what this judge was saying ... and yes, make changes.

Over confidence is what killed me in this case. I obviously didn't take the competition (or my outfit) seriously enough.

Which goes to show (maybe) that even the weirdest criticism can actually be a gift. It goes for our writing, too. That person who irritates you when you put your query on the public forum -- maybe that person is the one you need to listen to. That critique partner who gets under your skin and can't seem to remember the sandwich rule -- that's a critique to treasure.

Always take a few days to think through the feedback you get, even when it hurts, because sometimes truth comes flying at us like rotten tomatoes. If you duck, you miss out.**

*NO WAY am I EVER going on American Idol after this. If I can't handle frizzy-haired, velour-jogging-suit judge #1 from Podunk USA, how would I ever face Simon?

**Don't know where that analogy came from, but let's just go with it.


  1. Ouch. I'm glad that you could take something positive from the experience - eventually!

  2. The judge's comment was rude. There's nothing constructive at all. I didn't know one had to get dressed in capris to clean a toilet. Oh, I have the funniest picture of my daughter when she was about 3-4 in a pink party dress cleaning the toilet. She's still an eager helper.

    I also have a thick skin, and don't cry over rejections, but boy, the ones that come oh-so-close-publication hurt the most. I hope you will have a quick sale, Amy.

  3. I think that judge was channelling Simon. That's awful!! But thanks for sharing, because it made me laugh. Also, the point you make is a very good one. Sometimes the criticism we receive that stings the most or sounds the most ridiculous is the one we need to listen to.

  4. That was a bit harsh. It does carry a good lesson in writing though. Make sure your manuscript is ready to go, or you might as well flush it down that toilet. Lol

  5. Dear judge*:

    I was wearing SINGING, you idiot. And I don't clean toilets OR bathtubs. Are you available?

    Singing Green Bathub AND Toilet

    * Lowercase intentional. BAM! Don't mess wid us writers, judgey macjudgerson.


  6. Oh my...that's harsh.

    But that's great advice. If you get feedback you don't like, let it sit a while and, even though it wasn't given in the best of ways, try to see what you can learn from it.

    Haha...the question is: Do you clean toilets in that outfit?? :)

  7. What I take away from this is how you deliver feedback really matters. Yes, if feedback is delivered in an uncivil and potentially cruel way, there still might be a kernel of value in it. However, when delivered that way, it's almost unhearable by the person being critiqued. I wonder, if that judge had given you feedback in a more sensitive, professional manner, if you would have been able to hear it differently, even if it hurt to hear it in the first place (and for the record, I'm sure you looked adorable).

  8. wow the judge should not have talked to you like that. There are a million other ways to approach the subject (one I've actually heard before when I used to be in a band--they said were weren't consistent with each other with our clothing style).
    You've developed a thick skin for your writing because you expect it. When an attack comes at you unaware, that's a whole new ballgame. :)

  9. I notice that judge didn't say anything to the male you were with. I think superman t-shirts are the perfect garb for cleaning toilets but the judge obviously didn't think it mattered what he was wearing. How sexist!

    I'm so glad you've pulled your thick skin back on again and felt strong enough to share this with us. A frustration shared is a frustration halved.

  10. First of all, great analogy at the end there. Tomatoes, in fact, are great for your skin, so... :)
    If a judge had said that to me, I would probably have laughed in his face and then gone home and cried. Wow. Mean people make me angry.
    But yes, mean critiquers can be invaluable. Although ones who are honest AND nice are doubly precious.

  11. Love this post, and I'm constantly marveling at how thick my skin has become since writing that first novel. I've even sung that "Survivor" song in my own head at times! And don't worry, you shouldn't feel obligated to take suggestions from a velour-clad judge anyway!

  12. First of all, you could never look like the loo cleaner. People who insult others' appearance are rude and insecure. There's no place for that.

    But the writing rejection part made me feel like I'm not alone. Just yesterday an agent rejected my partial. She said the story is 'utterly fascinating' but the writing wasn't what she'd hoped for. It's hard to hear that after two years of rewrites, but I'm going to keep chugging along and will go back and revise if I keep hearing the same thing. I think this process is a way of weeding out people who don't want to spend a ton of time trying to get published. Like you, I will not surrender!

  13. Amy, the Judge was bad. It was a singing competition and you and your friend should be judged based on your singing only.
    Now, about rejections from agents and editors .. that's the norm. The rejection rate for unpublished authors is about 99%. Getting rejected is nothing personal, but should be accepted. As you ended .. never give up. If your book was good enough for the agent to ask for a partial, then it's already steps ahead than many other books. Best wishes for happy news for your beeok in 2012.

  14. Hi Amy - seems a bit much to me - you were clean and tidy .. and singing, which is what you were there for ..

    Oh well - another day .. you'll be dining out on the story for many a year ahead .. cheers Hilary

  15. So if I read someone's writing and tell him/her that he/she should relearn the alphabet before attempting to write, I'm doing them a service?
    Sensitive Guy

  16. Sounds like the judge was trying to channel Simon, to me. But kudos to you for taking the good from it.

    I do agree, some of the most hurtful critiques have, in the end, been the most helpful.

    Then again, I have had harsh critiques so mixed with niceness that I still improved tons AND didn't feel like dirt getting it. Just sayin . . . ;)

  17. This is meant for me...isn't it? Do you think I don't have a thick enough skin? I tell you, I LOVE rejection and feedback. Wait, you aren't talking about me, are you?

    And I would like to point out that your outfit has NOTHING to do with your talent and wtf to that judge for commenting on it? Give me a small break.

  18. You had me at your post title. Hee!

    I agree: we definitely have to let feedback simmer--and write down verbal comments so we don't lose any gems. Sometimes the wisdom behind a comment comes clear much later.

    Yowza about the judge. He or she should have phrased it more politely. For what it's worth, I've met you in person and you are adorable! :)

  19. I'm sorry to hear about your experience - that's really tough! I think we're trained to expect harsh rejection in our writing, but not so much in other areas of our lives. But you're right, we need to look for the grain of truth and see if there's anything in there we need to take to heart.

  20. Ooh, that's a painful one. I don't appreciate hurtful criticism, but it's true-- I've realized there still is something to learn from it. Sometimes we just have to let the pain fade first!

  21. What a bizzaar comment from that judge.
    Sometimes the crit that gets under you skin is worth listening to... And sometimes they're just being nasty.