What Rejection Taught Me

4110_tall For the past five years I’ve been working on my book, 21 Elephants. What began as therapy evolved into a vanity project and then eventually into 50,000 words which summarise the theological and spiritual conclusions I made about what it is to follow Jesus in my twenties. The first draft was rubbish, the second was okay, but on the third rewrite this thing really began to become something special. I’m quite proud of it, so earlier this year I secured an agent in the States to try and pedal my work to a major publisher who could move this to a wider audience than I could myself.

Publishing is a strange game. You don’t submit a full manuscript. You provide a 15-20 page case on why you have the platform and influence to make this book a success. You’re not arguing for quality, you’re arguing that you have a good market ready to purchase your book on release. After reading through this an Acquisition Editor will arrive at the end of your proposal and check that the writing is of a standard that matches the platform of the author and then, if all is in order, potentially look to make an offer.

It’s four times now that I’ve had a near miss. This means four Acquisition Editors were excited enough by what they saw and what they read to take this to an editorial meeting and present it as something that should be published. This means four times I’ve received emails that say things like “Scottie’s writing is dynamic and original”, “I am passionate about seeing this project published” and “all going to plan I’d like to make an offer within a week.” Every time I get one of these my heart and stomach collide briefly and I get excited about the idea of my little project reaching a few thousand people around the world rather than a few hundred friends and acquaintances here in New Zealand.

Then there’s an email a few days later which normally goes something like this. “I am so sorry but after talking with our team we don’t think we can represent an author which isn’t local in this current publishing environment.” Ouch… you guys really got my hopes up. After the initial disappointment I roll over and read the email to Anna (I’m still in bed at this point because the timezone difference means these emails always roll in just as I wake around 7am). We have a little bit of a laugh, I roll out of bed, have a shower and go to work. Somehow this rejection which represents another lost opportunity to present my ideas to a global audience, another step closer to having to raise the $10,000 - $12,000 to publish it myself, seems to roll off me like nothing happened and I carry on with life as usual.

To be honest, this is strange because I’ve never been that great at rejection. I’m wondering what the difference is with this potentially crippling experience that makes me able to let go so easily. Is it possible I could harness this resiliency throughout the rest of my life too? Why can I handle this and yet be completely decimated by a stranger who writes me an angry email about my last blog?

Well, I think I’ve worked it out…

In the end a publisher judges me and my work not on it’s quality, but on it’s ability to be adored and therefore purchased by thousands of others. That’s no ones fault, but just the natural cause and effect of a market-driven publishing environment. In the end these people are concerned about whether they should put thousands of dollars behind a project which may never recover it. That’s fair and fiscally responsible, I get it. But that doesn’t mean I believe in the system that makes it so. I’m okay with their rejection because I know that underneath it all this system is missing the point.

So what if we were to be this rational about rejection in the day to day? What if, like I do with publishing, we could understand rejection not as the result of something fundamentally flawed in us but as a reflection of a defunct system that has it’s values all back to front? What if we could remember that our sense of not being capable enough comes from a efficiency-obsessed culture which thinks we’re only what we produce? What if we could remember that our sense of not looking good enough comes from a shallow and vapid society that values appearance over depth of character? What if we could remember that our sense of inferiority comes from a world which believes failure is always fatal?

If I could remember these things then maybe I’d just laugh with Anna, roll out of bed, have a shower and go to work… just like i do with the book.

Perhaps it’s time to tell ourselves the truth. The truth that the many rejections we’ve experienced are all based on a lie. The problem isn’t with us, the problem is with the criteria because the criteria is bollocks! The systems of this world are far too corrupt to have any say over our self-worth. I propose a new marking schedule. One that we can all pass which says that who we are, as we are, is enough. Will you join me in gladly rejecting the system that rejects us?