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  • JillianForsberg

The Beauty in Rejection

This blog post is about my rejection fence project, pictured here:

In December, 2022, I sat alone exactly where I am sitting today: my dining room table, typing away on my second-hand MacBook, writing.

But that was different. I was finishing my book. I remember typing the words THE END and the tears started flowing. I had done it! I wrote a WHOLE BOOK! With a husband and a kid and a full time job and pets and friends and side hustles, I HAD DONE IT!

Tens of thousands of words, all mine. I edited and sent it off to beta readers. They sent me their notes (GLOWING), and I met with each of them to discuss and to thank them. I was so, so proud. I had this air about me, that feels like you've just been crowned. I wrote a book!!!

I really felt like I had something sellable. Something big. Something people would be desperate to read. The next step, after applying their small edits, was finding a literary agent to sell this thing. How hard could that be? These five people and my mom and husband love my book. So I listened to some podcasts and took a Reedsy course on querying.

Here, dear reader, is where things go south. If you're expecting an easy story, this isn't it. If you're expecting a story that has a conclusion, this also isn't it. This is painful, with bursts of joy, but lots of pain.

Rejection became a close bedfellow.

My first rejection came in mid-February, a few days after I sent the query. "Publishing is very subjective, and other agents may well feel differently. You deserve an unequivocally enthusiastic agent as your advocate." It was a no.

First query, first response, first rejection. I got a weird, sour-acid feeling in my belly that rose to my throat. That feeling didn't really dissipate as the next rejections rolled in.

While THE RHINO KEEPER sounds interesting, I'm afraid it's not right for my list...

Publishing is so subjective, and I'm sure you'll find an agent who feels differently....

I wish you lucking finding an agent...

This is not the right fit for me...





I started to melt. The fiery sour-acid feeling became normal. I read somewhere that a writer gave up after her first rejection, she was so disheartened. But this book is good. People I trusted told me so. I believe it, too.

Each time a rejection rolled in, I needed to take a moment. Sometimes I was at my day job. Sometimes it was 6am, and it was the first thing I saw when I woke up. A few times I was on work trips, and had to roll like nothing had just gut-punched me. I began to think back on the time I spent away from my family, writing and plotting and typing away and I wondered if it would amount to a single damn thing. I began to feel angry, like I had wasted my own time and the agents' time, too. They didn't want it. So why should I?

That hopeless feeling got me to do two things: it got me writing a different book, which I highly recommend, and it got me back into therapy for the first time in 7 years. My counselor asked why I was there and she patted me on the knee and smiled so big and said: YOU WROTE A BOOK! YOU HAVE SO MUCH TO BE PROUD OF!

She reminded me of a few things: that many people think they will write a book and never do. That people, REAL PEOPLE, like it a lot. That I like it a lot. That I've been told my whole life that I am a gifted writer. That this story is important.

After describing the sour-acid feeling in my gut and throat, she asked me what I could do to quell that. Breathing exercises? Meditation? Medication? I remember agreeing with her: this bodily feeling was not something I wanted to live with, and I thought about how I could make it go away.

Generally speaking, I am a very positive person. I believe wholly in the Law of Attraction. That your thoughts and words have great power, and that you have the power to manifest the life you want and specific things you want. So this rejection process was throwing me for a loop.

I would meditate and visualize the following: an agent requesting my full manuscript. Sending the manuscript. Opening an email from them asking for a phone call. Offering during that phone call. Getting an edit letter. Going on submission. Getting an email with a book deal offer. Editing again. Getting a publication date. Getting my cover. Launch day.

This endless loop played in my head, of all of these things and how I will feel when they come to pass. Notice I said WILL there - because though I have experienced rejection, I have a dream and it's very much alive. I wrote that list down. I wrote down the things I want in an agent. I dream of where I will take the phone call and how my heart will thud in my chest and how my eyes will well up with tears when it comes.

But looming between me and those good feelings is that sour-acid feeling. I couldn't seem to get past the first step.

I needed a way to turn it around, make it positive, so that when a rejection came in, I could fully process it and get excited about it.

Excited about a rejection? Well. That was the plan.

So I went where I knew I would find inspiration (don't judge me here): the antique mall. I love doing little crafty projects on vintage items, and am somewhat of a junk collector. In my head first was an old oil painting of a seascape that I could paint fish and stars on. But what drew me in and didn't let go of me was this simple section of white picket fence.

It burst into my head: I would paint a flower on it every time I got a rejection. I love painting flowers. I don't do it often, but painted a shed and our Little Free Library in abstract, poorly done flowers a few years ago. I'm not great, y'all. But I like to paint, and it brings me joy, and it forces me to sit and process.

So the flowers began. With each query rejection, I painted. I didn't know how big or small to make them. I didn't know how to paint different kinds of flowers. I don't know how long I'd be doing it. And I certainly didn't expect the response.

I decided to post about it on Twitter (X?? Sorry, but I'm going to call it Twitter...) because it's the only place I have found with other querying writers. And it absolutely blew up. A few people were confused by it, saying it was bizarre to deal with rejection this way. Most got it right away, saying they needed to come up with a project of their own. Many said with each rejection they just drank. I get it, but I don't drink. If you've ever queried, you just know.

There's such a promise of hope in your inbox when you see the Re: QUERY. Sorry for triggering some of you there! And then, when the big words jump out at you - the "unfortunately" or "I'm sorry," the lump in your throat turns to sorrow. You always had a 50/50 shot with that agent who could get you one step closer to your dream. And instead of climbing up a rung of the publishing dream ladder, you're just there, at the bottom of the query trench, waiting for that bright, brilliant hand to pull you out. Maybe it'll be the next one.

Rejection doesn't feel good. Painting flowers doesn't make it feel *much* better, but it doesn't hurt. Each time the response is a bad one, I get to go to put on my favorite emo bands and clean my brushes and pick a flower and a blank space (there aren't many left...), and paint. It's not about the painting, though, y'all. It's about the ability to take a step back and realize, by the end of that 15-30 minute session alone, that I'm doing just fine considering. When I get full requests, I get boba. It's just my thing.

The rejection on my first full request made me cry the most. I thought I was in, at just 9 queries, and that my life was a fairy tale and a huge agent would sign me then and there and it would all be over. Sweet summer child.

Now, 55 queries and 35 rejections deep, I know better. This is a number's game, and most people lose. 1 in 6,000 will get an agent. I know you're hoping now I'll tell you that I'm done painting flowers.

But the truth is that I don't know. I have several fulls out which feels really good - but still gives me the sour-acid feeling in my belly. I truly can't see the future. I may be painting flowers for those full requests, too. The fence has another side that's blank. If I run out space, I'll flip it over and just. keep. going.

Someone on Twitter asked me what my plan is when I get an offer.

If (my husband just told me to write "WHEN") I get an offer of representation, oh dream of dreams, I have a special place reserved on my white fence for a butterfly. That lovely creature can flit from rejection flower to rejection flower, enjoying the beauty that came from all of the "Nos."

Until then, I'll make beauty from chaos and quell that aching feeling and just revel in the fact that I wrote a whole damn book. And it's really, really good.

I have said for awhile now when I hit 100 rejections I get cake. You better believe that's true. And someday, if the stars align and I have a book signing locally, I'll haul this fence out of my hatchback and put it up next to the podium while I get to talk about my book. I can't wait to hear the gasps in the audience when I tell them those are all of the rejections I received. They'll marvel at it and ask how many there are and how did I have the strength to keep going?

Well. It's not my story, you see. It's the story of my characters, who were real, and the history they've left behind. I have the strength to keep going because I see no other ending but this book in my hands. For now, I will leave that spot blank for my butterfly offer. I will paint flowers on the other side. I will cry, from both rejection and acceptance.

For those of you new to this wild game, authors have spent years querying. They've shelved books after receiving thousands of rejections. That book in your hands from the library or book store or Amazon that you gave 2 stars on Goodreads to has so much effort, and tears, and joy, and rejection associated with it that it's really not possible to fathom unless you've been down here in the query trenches with us un-represented writers.

But you can come over to my side. Where the dirt grows flowers and we can listen to good music and take a break for awhile. You can still feel sad, or mad, or whatever you'd like to feel. We can paint something pretty and choose nice colors and not care if our work is good or bad because it's just a flower, not a book. No one will reject it.

So paint. Draw. Make a jar full of dragon tears. Make a candle. Plant a seed. Dance for exactly five minutes. Every time you get a rejection, DO something to turn your brain the other way - OH! I get to do XYZ now. Trust me when I say you don't want to be at the end of the trench where the light no longer shines and the soil is barren and no one has faith that anything good will ever happen. Leave that place. Expect miracles. Feel the weight of your beautiful book in your hands.

Here's to flowers and acceptances and old white fences, and rejections, too. Without them, I'd not own such a pretty fence. I'll tell you when I get to paint that butterfly.

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