Lessons from JK Rowling’s Rejections

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 1.21.23 PMLast week, J.K. Rowling posted two of the rejection letters she received  while writing as R. Galbrath. While she said her motivation was to inspire up and coming writers, I think there are a few other things for writers to take away from the tweet.

  1. It has to be restated: DON’T GIVE UP. I know Rowling said it, but it deserves to be said again. Anything worth accomplishing, is worth trying, failing, and trying again.
  2. In one of the rejection letters, Galbrath is encouraged to take writing classes. Laughable, considering who the author is behind Galbrath (and I’m sure that editor is wincing), however, it’s a thought worth diving into.
    1. It bears considering that the idea of a writer’s voice may not be as objective as we think. Often we hear that, don’t we? “Pick up a King book and you know it’s Stephen King. It has his voice.” If that’s the case, then why didn’t the editor recognize Rowling’s voice shining in the query? Perhaps because writing is subjective. We embue meaning and substance into the works we read. If you’re struggling with the idea of if you have a writing voice, then take a breath and relax.  Not everyone will recognize your voice, not everyone will get your writing. Don’t worry. Keep going until you find the person who does.
    2. The other thing to bear in mind is that a writer’s name is his/her brand. As we build our career, it’s worth remembering. Social media posts should be approached with awareness of who our audience is and how we want to communicate with them. It’s also worth remembering that once a post is up and running, it will live forever. Write responsibly.
  3. The editor may not have been all wrong. I have no idea what prompted the rejection, but I have my suspicions. As far as the editor knew, this Galbrath fellow was a new writer. Ergo, he’s a risk. Publishing is a competitive business. It is entirely possible that the editor passed on the story, not because they didn’t think it was particularly good, but because they didn’t know if the book would sell well.  Had the editors known it was Rowling behind the query, there would have been a bidding war. Remember, the book sold 500 copies when it was Galbrath, and millions when it was Rowling writing as Galbrath. It’s tempting for us as writers to question our writing and our abilities when we get those rejection letters. But again, your success as a published writer may just be a matter of perservence.
  4. Obviously, two of the editors to whom Rowling queried didn’t believe her to be a strong writer. Isn’t that heartening? Think of it, if Rowling can get the “no thanks,” when she is arguably the most popular writer in the world, then it’s up to writers to hold out our dreams and our belief that we have something to say in the face of all the rejections we receive.
  5. In line with all of the above, remember that there’s a difference between story-telling and writing. Story is the thing that will push the pages, connect with your reader, and lift us up. Writing is the mechanical aspect–the grammar, spelling. Perhaps the editors didn’t feel Galbrath was a strong writer (I know Rowling uses adverbs and there are a few editors out there who destest adverbs…) but no one can argue that Rowling isn’t a gifted story-teller. Work on your craft, work on your mechanics. Rowling lived with Potter for over a decade before she began writing him. Remember that great stories take time and great writers (of which you are one) also take time.

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