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REJECTION or (The Ignorance Of Others)

By Karen White

At the tender age of thirteen, a story I’d written and submitted for my school’s esteemed literary magazine was rejected.  Not sent back for revision, or deferred for a later edition.  Rejected.  Having (erroneously so, apparently) imagined myself to be quite the little miss wordsmith, it was humiliating.  Especially when Diana B., the girl who loved to torment me, smugly told me that her story had been accepted.  Doubly humiliating.


Right now, I’m in the car traveling a couple of hours to spend the weekend with our son whose heart has just been trampled on and shattered into a million pieces by his girlfriend of three years.  Rejection, in all its forms, is hurtful, mortifying, debilitating, and humbling.  It can also be the best thing that could ever happen to you.


Of course, it’s a lot easier for an older adult to appreciate experience—even bad ones—than it is for a nineteen year old.  I’ve already told my son how in my senior year in college my own boyfriend of two years—somebody I’d expected to marry—broke up with me for another medical student with whom he had apparently been studying anatomy.  I thought my life was over.  Until a few months later when my two sorority sisters set me up for a “Find-A-Date” function with my best friend’s older brother with whom I’d had a crush on since I was sixteen.  The date went well, as did subsequent dates, and he and I have been married now for twenty-five years.


Writers are notoriously thin-skinned.  Every less-than-stellar review kills me.  I’ve been known to focus on the one negative review out of one-hundred.  Even obsess over it to the point where I consider cyber-stalking.  But that’s another blog and I’m getting help.


I was not an overnight success.  My first four books were barely a blip on the radar of publishing.  My pitiful advances were indicative of the miniscule print runs and publisher non-support. I was dropped by my second publisher—kicked to the curb.  I was like Snoopy receiving a rejection from a publisher along with another rejection letter for anything else he might be thinking of sending to them in the future.


It wasn’t until my fifth book (with a new publisher) that I was given a cover I could actually show to my parents and wasn’t embarrassed to sit behind at a booksigning.  It took twelve books before I hit the New York Times extended list, and it wasn’t until I published book number fourteen that I made it into the top twenty.  Every time one of my earlier books failed to reach the list was like a little rejection.  It hurt.  It stung.  Many gallons of ice cream were consumed.


Looking back (and hindsight is always 20/20), I now realize that every rejection has made me a better person, and a better writer.  I’ve learned a lot about perseverance and patience—qualities I didn’t have when I was younger.   And I still might not have unless my heart and my dreams hadn’t spent time crushed beneath the wheels of unrequited love and an industry that can sometimes be indifferent at best.   I’ve learned that bumps in the road of life and career are only insurmountable walls if you allow them to be.  There is always a way around or over—you just need to be willing to work hard enough to find it.   Or you can quit.  And my daddy didn’t raise me to be a quitter.


I’m sure my son thinks that all my experiences are moot because I’m old (ancient, really, in his eyes), and that it doesn’t work that way.  As much as it pains me I know that I can’t tell him these things, that I can’t be the buffer between him and hurt.  I need to step back and allow him to learn from his hurt, be better for it, and be stronger for the road ahead.


That doesn’t mean that we can completely forgive and forget.  I’ve long held firm to the belief that the best revenge is success.  So is putting people in my novels.  If I need a person in one of my books to do a terrible thing or die in an unfortunate way, I have a long list of names I can use.  At the top of the list is Diana B. whose smug smile all those years ago forced me to try harder to prove to myself that I could write.  So thank you, Diana B.  I hope I can find you so I can send you a copy of my latest bestseller.  <g>

Michael Seese - February 22, 2013 - 6:34 am

As George Herbert said, “Living well is the best revenge.” Even though I’m much too “grown-up” to actually do so, I mentally file every rejection letter in my repository of people who will get a signed copy of my novel when it comes out.

It’s a good driver.

Alison Stone - February 22, 2013 - 11:10 am

Fantastic post, Karen. Thanks for the reminder that success takes work and doesn’t happen overnight. (As I obsessively check my Amazon rankings for my first book.)

My heart broke a little for your son. My son went through his first breakup recently and it made me see what a truly great kid my son is. Now why didn’t SHE see that? :) (Her name’s going on the villain list for my next book! Great idea!)

It’s all part of life’s lessons. Here’s to happiness.

Susan Sands - February 22, 2013 - 11:19 am

So sorry to hear of ******’* heartbreak! I hope he rebounds quickly and takes some of your sage advice to heart. Good luck!

Vickie P - February 22, 2013 - 11:30 am

Well said! And so funny about names you use in your books! Enjoy your weekend! Missing my youngest son, who’s in college about 4 hours away…

DENISE - February 22, 2013 - 12:18 pm

Thanks for the inspiration. Thanks for writing–you’re one of my favorite writers!

Karen Brougham - February 22, 2013 - 1:06 pm

You are inspiring in real life and in your writing. So sorry for your son’s pain and I know with you for his mother he will be fine in all of his life.
I have to ditto the former comment…thanks for the great books…you are one of my very favorites as well.

Julie - February 22, 2013 - 1:12 pm

Karen, This story today about rejection is so relevant to my own life these days. Thank you for the reminders of different perspectives we can take on “rejection” and how we handle them. Thank you! I have read and love ALL of your books! They’re awesome!

Laura Alford - February 22, 2013 - 1:31 pm

February seems to bring out the worst in me. Thank you for sharing and the inspiration that we’re not alone in our dejection over the rejection.

Karen White - February 22, 2013 - 2:56 pm

Thanks everybody for your very kind words!

I think this cold, wet, dreary February weather brings out the worst in us. It’s very hard to see the end of the rainbow when you can’t see the flippin’ rainbow for the clouds! One of the best things (and there are a few!) about getting older is that we’ve learned that despite the clouds, the rainbow is still there. We just have to be patient.

To all of you who are dealing with rejection—hang in there!!!

Louise - February 22, 2013 - 3:51 pm

Rejection is such a bitter pill to take, and it comes in many form’s. I am myself going through a heart wrenching rejection of sorts, a long and complicated story and maybe I will even pen a few words about it one day!
It really is hard to see the rainbow for the grey, wet, February weather at the moment, and as difficult as times in your life can be it is so comforting to know you are not alone-we have all been there and suffered rejection in differing way’s, and if you have not then you are so lucky to have escaped the heartache.
I do though believe that you learn so much about yourself in the low times and whomever is lucky enough to date your son next will be very blessed.
Thank you for the great novels, I only began reading your books last year and am a huge fan!

Karen - February 22, 2013 - 7:31 pm

I enjoyed reading this post. You are an inspiration for anyone to keep trying for their dream. I am glad you did not quit because your writing is fun and enjoyable. Thank you. Sorry about your son and his relationship.

Sharla Lovelace - February 23, 2013 - 8:54 am

Great post, Karen, and so very much what I needed to hear. Hugs for your son….that’s such a hard age, they feel everything so massively and you just want to string up the person that crushed your baby. :)

Laura Drake - February 23, 2013 - 10:12 am

Wow, I’m saving this one, Karen. If this can happen to as fantastic a writer as you, I KNOW it’s in my future!

Thanks for sharing with us.

Joanie - February 23, 2013 - 12:36 pm

Good post, Karen, very humanizing angle. I also wanted to say that I think you have developed just the best media options on your website of any author out there. I’ve been pointing out your web pages for the past year to author friends who are trying to decide what to do for their own. Really excellent!

Darcy - February 24, 2013 - 7:59 pm

Karen, thanks for this wonderfully inspiring post! Hugs to you and your son, it’s never easy to see our children learn the tough lessons in life. I absolutely can’t wait to read your next book….as you know, you are my go-to author for a deeply, satisfying reading experience. 😉

linda sands - February 26, 2013 - 12:25 pm

I love that you are not only “there” for your son through a phone line or a chat box, but actually going to be with him. That says so much about your character- and ultimately your characters.
I have a hard time removing the line between words/choices/ life of the author on the page and the author in the real world, because a really good writer, to obvious in both places. I remember reading your first ( 5th) book- and I say “first” only in that it was the first of your novels down the successful path in women’s fiction/ southern fiction, and I said to the other book club girls, where has she been? I compared your work to the other female Southern voices of the time and felt your characters were stronger, your plots letter perfect, your turns of phrase and dialogue, more memorable, more real, more… of what I liked to read, and write.
Maybe it was those early challenges, those real life troubles and butthead people that gave you that talent, if so, then I’m glad for them, and will continue to read through the lines and find your creative revenge on the page. Maybe your next novel will feature the early demise of a nineteen year old girl…

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