When it comes to submitting my work to the publishing gatekeepers of this day and age, I sometimes feel like Dorothy ringing the bell to the Emerald City. The responses are usually curt and oftentimes refusals. I have a great story that I’ve poured my heart and soul into and I think it’s good enough to publish. And the gatekeepers say, “Prove it.” So I give them my work.
It’s hard to give your work to a stranger. It’s hard to get a rejection letter. It’s hard to be ok with it all. After all, why should these professionals get to hold such power over our creativity? Why do they get to call the shots on what’s “good” and what’s “not right for us”?
I do believe that every product of creativity has value simply because it was created by that person. I believe that we should share our creativity with others and build community from that and inspire each other with it. So how do we live that out in conjunction with the professional gatekeepers of creative avenues?
I’ve wrestled with this a lot, and I discovered some distinctions that have been helpful. Here I’ll use writing as the example, though most other creative expressions can be applied as well.
First, we must draw a distinction between Personal and Professional.
Personal: This is where we start. We have a story idea that excites us or reflects us, and we write it for the joy, therapy, and fulfillment of it. We may even share it with our spouse or a friend or in a writing group. Most likely the feedback is positive because the people we’ve entrusted to read it love us. While they may have some suggestions or questions for our story, they’re not experts in the professional field of writing, and that’s fine. If someone does have a negative critique it’s easy to dismiss it as their opinion. After all, everyone is entitled to like or not like something, but in this realm a final stamp of approval isn’t relevant. All that matters in a Personal arena is our opinion of our own work, which should see the value of our story because it’s our creation. And it’s good.
Professional: Then we may venture here. Some of us have a desire to share our story beyond our little world, and dream of strangers reading our books. In order to achieve this, we have to give our work to the gatekeepers of the publishing world. We also have to abide by the rules of professional writing that are the rubric by which the gatekeepers operate. Examples of these rules: first page must hook in reader; by page 10 the problem should be presented and the catalyst for the protagonist set; plot must reach a climax; characters must change by the resolution, etc. Creativity is not a business, but publishing is. The gatekeepers know what will appeal to readers and what will sell. In the Professional realm, they decide what is “good.”
The sooner we recognize this distinction the better. When it comes to submitting to the gatekeepers, we need to not take their rejection personally. Taking rejection from a publisher as a personal attack on our creativity does us no favors. It definitely stings–don’t get me wrong! But remember: a gatekeeper doesn’t reject a story simply because they were in a bad mood that day and just didn’t like it. A professional gatekeeper rejects a story because it didn’t hit the right points on the rubric. So our response should not be to shove our manuscript in a drawer and never write again. Rather it should be to roll up our sleeves and go edit our manuscript with fresh eyes; and more often than not we find new ways to improve it.
It takes time and maturity and experience in the writing field to not only make this distinction between Personal and Professional, but to also be okay with it. Keep in mind that on a Personal level your creative expression is valuable and good. It’s perfectly fine to keep it in that realm. But if you so dare to ring the bell at the Emerald City, you must understand and respect the gatekeeper’s rejection. And you might just hear the gatekeeper say, “Well, bust my buttons! That’s a horse of a different color! Come on in!”