If there’s any universal truth, it’s that rejection happens to all of us at some point – especially in publishing. Most writers have entertained at least one 3am fantasy about an editor coming crawling back. Even Animal Farm was rejected by Faber & Faber, a decision now (understandably) regretted.
Orwell’s rejection is just one of many that have made their way into legend. Extravagant rejections of authors, from JK Rowling to Vladimir Nabokov, fascinate all of us. We like to remember that geniuses are fallible, and that nobody gets it right every time. But apart from these famous stories, we don’t talk about the everyday experience of rejection in the arts, and its role in the creative process. By venerating these big stories of rejection we make rejection itself feel remarkable, when it’s actually the norm.
We tend to focus instead on the narrative of overnight success and the glamour of fully formed genius. But huge deals and fairytales are sexy anomalies. Maybe we just don’t want to acknowledge that the process of creating good art is full of mistakes and, frankly, often tedious. We love shiny new things, speedy trajectories from zero to hero. Knotty, dreary process we love less.
But in publishing, everybody has been rejected – manuscripts in the drawer are our skeletons in the closet. We just don’t talk about it, for risk of seeming damaged goods. There’s real vulnerability to these conversations when we do broach it, author to author. It can feel like those early rejections are the barometer by which our worth is measured, any later success an accident rather than a byproduct of processing, improving, trying.