Self-Publishing and Rejection

As an aspiring novelist, I have a longstanding relationship with rejection. The first year I applied to graduate schools, I was rejected from all of them. The second time I only made it into one. I’m currently starting my third round of agent submissions on my novel. In between each round I’ve made revisions based on the feedback I’ve received, and then have gone back to querying. I’ve been asked a lot why I don’t self-publish the book, and for a while it was a question I didn’t know how to answer, especially as I worked as an editor with more and more authors who do self-publish.

Questions I don’t know the answer to always lead me to the most interesting essays. I thought a lot about the question of self-publishing, first trying to write an essay about my own personal reasons for continuing to pursue traditional publishing. That didn’t quite answer the question, though, so I revised and revised, and eventually finished my essay “In Defense of Rejection.”

The essay is about writing and rejection, and argues that by removing rejection from the publishing process, self-publishing is changing what it means to be a writer. I struggled with writing this, because I work with so many self-published authors whose work I have great respect for. It’s difficult these days to wade into the debate about where and how to publish without appearing to denigrate other writers. That wasn’t my intention here at all. It does seem to me, though, that in all the conversations about the ways in which traditional publishing is broken (and I do agree that it is), there aren’t many people who talk about the value of rejection, or what happens to artists when rejection is removed from the equation. I hope this essay gets that conversation started.

And in case you’re curious, before this essay was published by English Kills Review, it was rejected (in various forms) by eleven other editors. I wrote and began submitting the initial version of the essay in October 2013, and in between rejections continued to rewrite and revise. I’m glad I did. This is a better essay than the first one I wrote 10 months ago. The rejection helped me get it there.