If there is one constant in the publishing world, it’s rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. And for a neuro-diverse author, those can hit hard. Rejection-sensitive dysphoria is a common symptom for all neuro-diversities but is commonly linked to ADHD. You do not have to have ADHD to experience this phenomenon. RSD is extreme emotional sensitivity and pain triggered by the perception of rejection or criticism. A sense of falling short or failing to meet their high standards or other’s expectations can also trigger it.
How does RSD affect the ND writer?
Because your book, short story, poem, or other work is such an integral part of you, it feels like a personal attack when it gets rejected or criticized. It feels like validation of the imposter syndrome monster who tells us were not good enough. Also, it tells us that our high standards were not high enough, so we must be better than the best to get a yes. Most of that is traitorously unrealistic. It is a fictitious lie your brain perpetuates with the receipt of rejection. It says, “See, we have proof that you failed.”
So how do we battle this?
I will probably sound like a broken record, but it’s a practice that deserves repeating. Redefine success. When we change what we think we know about success and apply it to things others wouldn’t consider successful, it changes how we view rejection.
For example, I pitched to three agents at a recent writing conference. I got a rejection from 2 and a request from the third that later led to a rejection. Even though each agent said no to my pitch, I see these interactions as wins for myself, and here is why.
The first one explained it was not because the story didn’t sound fascinating; she wanted a copy when I published it. She said that I shouldn’t sell myself short with this story and that I should seek a big five publishing deal. While she didn’t take my manuscript on the spot, the reason had nothing to do with my story and everything to do with her particular house not working with that type of novel.
The second was awkward as I was doing it digitally. It was intense and nerve-racking. While it wasn’t a yes, it was still a pleasant exchange. The interaction and networking opportunity is still a win, even if it was a no to my book.
The third asked for my pages. I still got a rejection from this agent in the end. However, it was not a form of rejection, and the email was another massive boost to my ego. I keep it in my inbox flagged as important, as it is nice to go back on days when I am feeling down.
You can see how I might have wallowed in these three rejections. It would be easy to back up the intrusive thoughts of “not good enough” even with the praise I received for my story. Instead, I see every one of those interactions as a win. It was a networking connection I didn’t have before. It was a validation that my novel was good and that I should move forward with it, even if it wasn’t with them.
So how do you redefine success? I could say it is as simple as being optimistic, but that would be far too abstract for most ADHD folks to wrap their heads around, so I will summarize my process.
1. Give yourself five minutes to feel. Allow yourself to feel the feelings about rejection. Yes, rejection hurts, and it’s OK to feel that hurt. Work through all the negative thoughts and persistent nagging your imposter syndrome monster can throw at you. Scream, cry, and release the negative feelings in any way you can. After five minutes, ask yourself one question; Can I change the outcome? If you can, GREAT, go to the next step! If not, at the end of five minutes, you proudly exclaim that you can’t change it. Your time to be upset about it is over.
2. If you can change the outcome, which in writing, we totally can outline the steps you need to do to make your project ready for the next agent, editor, or publisher.
3. When you can’t change it, it is time to look for those silver linings in the rejection. What made you feel good about the interaction? Having the acquiring editor demand a copy of my book when I publish it sent warm fuzzies all over. Look for that feeling even in rejection, and you will feel better about it.
4. Every no puts you that much closer to a yes. I have a background in real estate sales, and there is a saying that I still live by, for every 100 no’s, one will be a yes. We can say the same about querying, pitching, or publishing. Every no, statistically, puts you closer to a yes. So relish in the “no’s”; they are leading you somewhere. Understand that each editor, agent, publisher, or independent press has its own niche needs and wants for stories. While we can use broad genre-specific terms to search for a good fit for us, the publishing industry is a beast ruled by marketing. Your book could be a good fit for the agency you have queried, but the market could be cold towards that type of novel. Does that mean you can’t ever query this novel again? Absolutely not. Keep trying, the market is cyclical, and trends rise, fall, and rise again. It’s easy to allow rejection to pull us into the depths of our deepest, darkest fears, doubts about ourselves, and our writing. However, when we redefine how we view these interactions, we can change how they affect us. It is in our power to change how we react to and feel about rejection.