When Publishers Pass You By

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When I was much younger and just beginning to realize that I wanted a future as a writer, I had starry-eyed notions of a major publisher recognizing my talent and jumping to offer me a contract (with a generous advance, of course). Yeah, not so much. Instead I have a pile of rejection letters, mostly of the form variety, some with encouraging words about how my writing is good (just not quite right for them). I had to learn the hard way that being a good writer isn’t enough to get published. In fact, sometimes you don’t even have to be able to write at all as long as you have a big enough name to guarantee sales. Depressing doesn’t even begin to cover it.

A recent article in the Washington Post shares how Madeleine L’Engle and other well-known writers have suffered rejection over their careers. So how to deal with it when it happens to you?

Like L’Engle, stick to your vision. Don’t compromise your work to suit the industry’s sometimes narrow definitions of salable. Your readers are out there, even if your book is genre defying and a little odd (something readers are a lot more open to than publishers).

Like J.K. Rowling, keep persisting. Just because 12 publishers reject your book doesn’t mean 13 won’t be your lucky number. [Edited to add: Also like J.K., if you’re a woman, you might want to submit under initials or a gender neutral name instead of an obviously feminine name–especially if you don’t write romance or “women’s fiction.” Sexism in publishing is real, and I wish I’d realized that years ago.]

Like Beatrix Potter, do it yourself. Self publishing has been around a long time and is only getting bigger. When traditional publishers have let you down (or you don’t even want to bother with them in the first place), don’t be afraid to go the indie route (which is what I did with my dark fantasy novel, Love Lies Bleeding–and what I will also be doing with the new novel I’m working on).

Whatever you do, don’t let rejections get to you. They are common, they are inevitable, and they don’t reflect the quality of your work or you as a person. Just remember: a good story will find a way.

How do you deal with professional rejection? Share in the comments.

[This was originally posted on 13 March 2018. Re-posted with minor edits.]

10 Ways to Get Your Creativity Flowing

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Everyone has times when they need to be creative (even those of you who swear you were born without the creativity gene). Whether you’re trying to turn random ingredients into dinner, or are writing an epic novel, creativity is part of life. But there are times when the creative energy seems to burn out and your perspective on your current project has gone stale. If you need help getting the inspiration flowing again, here are ten things you can try to renew your creativity…

Don’t Force It: No matter how often people claim to work best under pressure, stress doesn’t produce quality results. Unless you’re aiming for quantity rather than quality, trash those arbitrary goals (1000 words every day!), take a deep breath, and relax. Don’t be afraid to walk away for a bit (whether it’s for a five-minute break, an hour-long nap, or to start a new project entirely), if you need to. It’s amazing how well the ideas come when you’re not forcing them.

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Try Something New: When your comfort zone feels tapped out, it can help to look for inspiration elsewhere. If you’re a painter, try listening to (or playing) music. If you’re a writer, bake something. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it’s something out of your ordinary. Creativity begets creativity, and being creative in a new way can spur you on in your usual field.

Take a Walk: Interrupting desk (or wherever you do your best work) time with a walk may seem counter-intuitive, but a Stanford study found that a person walking, whether on a treadmill or out in the world, “produced twice as many creative responses” as someone sitting. The benefits continued even after the walk was over. The next time you need to brainstorm, consider doing it on the move.

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Travel: Ideally this will involve foreign shores and exotic cultures, but it doesn’t have to. Go as far as you can, even if that’s just a few streets over. Check out a part of town you’ve never been to. Try a restaurant that serves a kind of food you’ve never had. Meet new people. Go exploring. Be open to new adventures and see how far you go, even if the actual distance is short.

Be Inventive: Try this exercise: take everyday items and come up with as many unusual uses for them as you can. What else can you do with hair ties, forks, or a shoe, for example? Imagine yourself in different situations (desert island, post-apocalyptic…) trying to make the most use of everything in a world with few resources. This re-inventing of common items is a form of creative thinking that can then lead to more creative breakthroughs.

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Get Inspired: Enjoying other people’s work and ideas can prove inspiring. Spend time in museums, art galleries, and libraries, going to concerts, taking classes, reading new or favourite authors, or poring over your favourite websites and magazines. Even people watching can be a great source of inspiration.

Create Without a Plan: When you’re stuck, start making something, even if it’s “just” doodles or stream-of-consciousness journal entries or putting together fabrics you like. As you create aimlessly, ideas will start coming to you and you’ll likely be inspired to complete an old project or start something new.

Be Prepared: Ideas can happen anywhere, and often when you’re in the middle of something else. Make sure to always have with you a way to record all your ideas: a sketchbook, notepad, app–whatever works for you. If you have to, drop whatever else you’re doing to get everything down while it’s fresh (the Muse doesn’t linger and you will not remember later, no matter what you tell yourself!)

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Work Somewhere New: A change of scenery can sometimes be all you need to light a spark. If any part of your work is portable, try taking it to a park, coffee shop, or anywhere else that appeals to you. Or try rearranging/redecorating your office/work space.

Change Your Perspective: Consider your project as though you’re someone totally different (whether someone specific, or just a generic “character”). How would that person approach the project? What might they see that you don’t, and what would they do about that? See your work through their eyes.

Have you tried any of these techniques? What did you think of them? Do you have any other suggestions to add? Please share in the comments 🙂