“I hope you don’t regret your choice, and I wish you the best :)”
It was better than when I got cussed out for telling a guy he was being annoying.
Feeling rejected isn’t one of our most rational moments. It’s valid, it’s relatable, it’s natural, but the reasons and events we feel rejected for don’t always follow logic.
“You don’t want me to be your juror?! Why? What’s wrong with me?”
People’s poor reaction to rejection is probably the most universal experience in the human condition. You can learn to accept it gracefully, it does get easier with time, but we all know what it’s like to be hit with someone saying, “I don’t want you.” That makes it all the harder to say it yourself.
Writers ask me all the time how to deal with breaking the bad news to someone. How do we approach giving a bad review to a person who asked to rate it? How do we give our friend or lover or mom constructive criticism? How do we tell our cousin he can’t design the cover? How do we tell a freelancer they didn’t get the job? When we hate getting rejected ourselves, how can give it out? How would we like to hear it? Not at all, really.
The lady in question offered up her proofreading services some months back, contacting me via Facebook. At the time, I was mulling over whether or not I wanted to hire an editor or proofreader before submitting to agents, so I told her the truth: “My manuscript isn’t ready for that stage yet, but I’ll keep you in mind.”
She kept in touch since then, which I consider commendable. Had several factors gone differently, she made herself a forerunner in my options.
When the work did start to get to the point where I really starting to consider hiring a proofreader, I looked through her portfolio—a list on online books she’d worked on—I was not impressed. The first three had several errors early on. Subtle, nothing too distracting, but still there. It was entirely possible that the writer didn’t take her advice, but at that point, I don’t think it’s my job to do a second consideration for her if she didn’t check. Truth is, most freelance editors out there are still learning, starting their business with no professional experience.
That, for me, makes it more difficult to say no. As someone who was never very good at looking credible and following traditional paths, I respect those who do the same, and try and give them the benefit of the doubt as I would want. I myself have learned grammar, editing, and submission format from pure, unofficial practice and personal research. After writing every day for more than a decade, I’ve gotten good at it, but I don’t have the resume to show it. In fact, my writing resume is very thin despite how much I claim to know. It would be doing a disservice to my people to say, “You don’t have any experience in a publishing house, so you can’t possibly be good.”
I also knew, the more I read through this manuscript, that it’ll get rejected for its adverbs before its grammar. I’ve been working on it for years now, it’s in its eleventh draft, many people have gone over it, and it’s pretty damn clean. Not perfectly so; I found yesterday a weaker place, and I still come across some typos here or there—if I was self-publishing I would hire a proofreader. But, if I was self-publishing, I would hire a full-blown edit with content and copy editing as well.
Paying for a proofreader now would be a lot of work trying to find the right person and an excess expenditure that I think don’t tackle the real reasons an agent would pass me up. I do decent work even without a lot of polishing—my blogs undergo one or two reads before going up, and so are a good example of about how many errors I make without meticulous comb overs. If I got someone anal enough to say no to a typo on page thirty-six, there’s a lot of writing rules I don’t strictly adhere to long before that. I would argue my big words and confusing sentences are way more frequent. I would argue the fact it’s dystopian right at the tale-end of a fad would be reason enough to say, “NOPE.” So spending several hundred dollars polishing it just rang foolish.
I knew she was going to contact me in August because I informed her I had hoped to be done by then. Which is true, more or less. I find now I want to do one more overhaul of a middle scene—one I’ve always struggled with—but I’ve fixed all other important complaints I could do on my own. It’s at the point where I need to put it out there. I’m confident in it. There are obvious reasons it might not sell—mostly the whole genre thing—but that, at least, will not lead me to that painful point of, “Rewrite, resubmit, write something else?” I feel if it doesn’t do well in this form, it’s just not marketable enough.
Lastly, I am also moving to New York City (I know you’ve heard it before. But I’m avoiding boys right now; no last minute fleeing to Australia for me this time) in October and need every penny I can save.
I debated for a while what to tell her.
The Golden Rule is strange. How I want to be treated very much depends on the context. Do I want someone to point out an error? Do I want to be told why I’m being rejected?
Sometimes no. I mean, in the case of being turned down for jury duty, there’s no need for the insult. In situations that I am not trying to improve myself, just attempting to have fun or help a person out, sometimes I could do without the criticism. If I’m feeling sensitive, I might prefer form letter rejections for my writing—it’s nothing personal.
But with something like this? Yeah, I’d probably want to know that I got turned down because of a poor sample of my work on my website.
On the other hand, I had to wonder how much of it was on the offensive side. I’ve been rejecting people more and more in recent years and I know how easy it is to get attacked for saying no. I could feel a little bit of preemptive anger and couldn’t decide if perhaps saying, “I’ve looked at BOOK and there were some errors. Can you describe what the process of working with that author was like?” was a passive-aggressive attempt to put her on the defense.
Moreover, I don’t need the argument. When I looked through her work, it was months ago, and I don’t remember what the errors were specifically. Grammar is such a fickle beast with several different standards and flexibility, and arguing pedantics has always seemed like an egotistical waste of time. The issue is I don’t trust her to fill in the inadequacies of my own knowledge, and trust is a huge part of a successful edit.
A woman sometime back eagerly asked to read this manuscript for me. She was extremely sweet, quick, and dedicated. She also didn’t know what she was talking about. Mainly, she questioned common stylistic choices, like using a dash for an interruption. I found that a third of her critiques were outright wrong, one third were debatable, and the rest were correct, but often optional or controversial (like the oxford comma). Her best criticisms tended to be small, meaning I had to shift through the “truth” of each opinion for twenty minutes to find one “the” instead of “they.” I reluctantly ended up disregarding all of the notes because when she pointed out something that I had never really questioned, I couldn’t be sure that it was my mistake or hers, and it wasn’t always something you could look up, usually more abstract or subjective. I couldn’t trust her. I needed to spend too much time doing my own research to know if I should take critique or not, and it wasn’t yielding enough results to make it worthwhile.
If I’m going to fork over an arm and a leg for an edit, I want to be able to trust that you know better than me.
I didn’t want to make an enemy. I didn’t want to be insulted. I didn’t want her to feel like she had to defend herself. I didn’t want there to be any question that the answer is no.
I also knew that saying, “I have decided I am not going to hire a proofreader at this time,” would open me for attack. I don’t believe in explaining yourself, especially unsolicited, because it suggests insecurity in your choices and makes it easy to criticize. I chewed over my words carefully and told her, “Hi! [My writing’s] going well. Right now I've been considering my options and discussing things with people, and I've decided it's not best for what I want with this manuscript to personally hire a proofreader. I will think of you in the future though. Thank you!”
It’s true, if you’re wondering. If I consider hiring a proofreader again, she will be the first to cross my mind; that’s the power of self-promotion. I would just remind myself that I already passed her up for a reason. I will also remember her response to my no.
I was not surprised at her answer. It was, more or less, exactly what I was picturing. I was more miffed by the smiley face.
I find my life is a lot easier the more I accept people are going to take rejection poorly, and instead do what I consider right by both of us whether they like it or not.
What do you do when someone approaches you and it’s not in your best interest?
-Be clear the answer is no.
I’ve learned to use the actual words “sorry” and/or “no.” Everything else can be misinterpreted. They, however, are pretty harsh, so “will not” and “decided against” are good second choices.
-Don’t explain too many reasons unless specifically asked.
Vagueness tends to result in acceptance. “It’s not best...” can’t be argued with and doesn’t illicit an immediate question other than a blanket why.
When a person solicits more reasons for your decision, I think they deserve to understand what happened, but if they don’t, I personally think it is better to take care of myself in that situation and not needlessly borrow trouble.
-You can make it about yourself to make it hurt less for them—but expect to be attacked. Or you can make it about them, be more hurtful, but possibly help them and be left alone. The right answer is different for each context.
Contrary to common sense, keeping your mouth shut and being nice is somewhat of a selfish action. By continuing to be polite, you are more likely to be abused, but are less likely to leave them with a lingering hatred. They are far more likely to insult you once and not come back than if you were rude back.
People use anger to soothe their emotional pain. We are more likely to take it out on someone who won’t fight back as well. If you’re dealing with an asshole who insults you first, you’re more likely to back down out of self-preservation. If the person takes fault, however, you’re more likely to agree.
Doing right by them could be conveying the full truth of your decision, but that means you’re more likely to end up in some drama. They’re more likely to be angry with you, to argue with you, and even go out to start a feud, but they also will learn something from the experience and be able to solve the problem for the future.
I often suggest in critiques to make it about you to minimize hurt feelings—“I wasn’t rooting for the protagonist, and it’s hard for me to invest in a book where I don’t want the main character’s success.”—but that allows for them to write you off—It’s just you after all. In a criticism of someone else’s work, it doesn’t matter because they’re the one who it affects, and it’s likely that they will realize your point after mulling it over for some time. But when it’s your work and your decision, you don’t always need to be criticized for your choices just because you don’t think someone is best for the job, so you might decide not to make it about you—“I’m not hiring a proofreader right now,”—and give them room to call you an idiot.
-Try to remember you have the right to do best for you, and their anger isn’t personal.
Surprisingly, I feel obligated to take care of people. I want to hire them. I want to explain my reasons for rejecting them. I want them to do well. I wouldn’t be surprised if I was left feeling more distraught than they were about the whole situation.
“You don’t owe these people,” I’m told a lot.
You know that, but it doesn’t necessarily help. Feeling rejected isn’t logical.
I’ve had to be the bad guy a lot lately, but it does do one thing for me. The more I have to reject others, the more I realize how impersonal it is. How they have to do right by them, and just because working with you isn’t the best choice doesn’t mean they hate you, they look down on you, they’re laughing at you, or they even think you’re bad at what you do. Most times, I reject people because of personal reasons. I genuinely decided against hiring a proofreader. I am not looking to date. I have a different vision or different tastes.
I liked this proofreader. She was friendly. I respected her bravery and work ethic. When I told her no, I didn’t see it as rejection… until she criticized me with a smiley face.
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