Professional writers get lots of experience hearing the words "No thank you." And they learn not to take it personally. Anonymous letters from publishers, agents, literary magazines and arts organizations soon lose their sting, and the momentary setback is forgotten.
We develop thick skin, but that doesn't mean we never feel disappointment. Probably the hardest rejection to take is the initial yes that turns into a no. The publisher that loves your manuscript and signs a contract but then doesn't get your book out in the agreed-upon time frame. The agent that takes you on then quickly loses touch. The literary magazine that gives you first prize in a contest but decides not to publish your story. In these cases, the writer is left wondering what went wrong?
Usually what went wrong was the business end of writing. I've had two such experiences in the last few years. The first was a publisher who said he loved my my book, Sundown Salute. From his phone call, it seemed like a contract was a sure thing. But then he asked me to help pay for publication. When I didn't jump at the chance, his yes quickly turned into a no.
Then an agent asked to read the same book. Again, she said she loved it. But since she was an American agent, she wanted one little change: move the setting from Canada to the States. When I said this wasn't possible (the book is an exploration of cultural differences within Canada), she said she had to pass.
They were both very disappointing, but it was important for me to remember that these rejections didn't negate the value of the work I produced or the fact that I succeeded in jumping over the first hurdle. Someone said yes. They just weren't the right publisher or agent for that book.
So how did I manage this kind of disappointment? First, I remembered why I'm doing this. Writers write because they have to. It's our way of processing the world. It's our way of communicating. That won't stop.
Second, I did what we all do when those form letter rejections come in. I filed it away and moved the manuscript on to the next agent or publisher. I'm not saying this is always easy (do you tell the next publisher that your book was on the shelf somewhere else?), but it is how the process works. Putting the book in a drawer only guarantees that it will never be published.
Don't let an "almost was" be your downfall. Don't let a no influence how you feel about the work or yourself as a writer. Don't give up hope.
In the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (in case you thought only modern-day writers have it so hard): "Perseverance is a great element of success. If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody."