Got Tough Skin?


The next Guest Author on the WEbook blog is Natalie Whipple. Writer of Young-Adult fiction and awesome blog entries. Natalie was nice enough to take a short break from her blog and spend some time at WEbook writing about how to take rejection in the publishing world.

Take it away, Natalie!

Toughskinturtle Even if you’ve just barely jumped into publishing, you’ve probably heard something like this: You have to develop a tough skin to make it in this business. Rejection is just part of the process. Deal with it.
Well, my skin is about as tough as tissue paper. And not the nice stuff—more like the public restroom stuff that disintegrates if you look at it wrong. For a long time I thought this meant I wasn’t fit to be published or even fit to try. I pictured everyone in the publishing business as these strong people devoid of emotion. They would laugh at weakling me if I even thought about crying.
After chickening out for several years, I finally decided to attempt the whole finding-an-agent thing. I figured maybe I’d develop this tough skin that I supposedly needed.
Every time I got a rejection, it stung. I held out hope that one day maybe it wouldn’t hurt. Maybe I just needed a lot of rejections to make my skin stronger. So I kept going, secretly ashamed that a partial rejection could make me cry so much. Real writers don’t cry!

But then I started hanging out with other writers, and I discovered a wonderful thing—rejection made them feel bad, too! Not that I was happy they felt sad, it’s just that I wasn’t alone with my shameful sensitivity. All of these “soft skinned” writers have been quite successful, and it gave me hope that I might see that success as well.

That’s not to say the idea of tough skin is completely wrong; I just think we often misread it as meaning strong and impenetrable. To make it in this business, I would say you need a different aspect of tough skin: Resilience.

Resilience doesn’t only come through toughness, though. You can be one of those Bobo dolls that always gets knocked over but pops right up again. Or you can be like Wolverine, who gets wounded often but heals up quick. Or you can be a ninja, who poison darts anyone who resists…wait, no, don’t do that. Maybe stick with the Bobo doll in this case, I’m getting caught up in weird analogies again.
The point is, I still cry sometimes when I get rejections or bad critiques or whatever. It hurts me. I’m not proud of that, but I’ve learned it’s okay to feel that way. I don’t have to be tough-skinned to make it in publishing. After my pity party, I just have to pick myself up and keep moving forward.

And carry a few poison darts. Just in case.

Natliecrop Natalie Whipple is a YA writer represented by Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown, Ltd. When she's not writing she spends most of her time keeping her two little ninjas out of trouble, which is as hard as it sounds. Ninjas love trouble. Check out her great blog at or follow her on Twitter @nataliewhipple.

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  1. I have "combination" skin, and I don't mean dry/oily. I'm tough as nails when it comes to strangers -- if I don't know you and you don't know me, then the good things you say can make me smile but the bad things you say won't really bother me. HOWEVER. If you're my friend or family, you can crush me with the lightest touch. I try not to let them see, because I do value their feedback (obviously), and I don't want them to be afraid to give it to me.
    So I agree: You don't have to be heartless to make it in publishing. You just have to be resilient, and believe in yourself.
    And it doesn't hurt if you're as awesome as Natalie Whipple. ;)

  2. Hi,
    I had a book published and it was a real mess. I tried to be tough about it because, this was my baby but, my friends crushed me and so did most of the readers who looked at it. I pulled the book after that and I have fixed it. I just hope this time around I wouldn't be rejected so much as I was the first time around. Thanks Natalie for the info.

  3. I have super thin skin too. The trick is learning how to blot it, let it air dry and moving on. (Something I'm still working on)
    Thank, Natalie for sharing. I love writers who aren't afraid to say these things.

  4. If only a certain 'Writers House' in New York would REJECT me, I could take that. I EXPECT it even. But when you pour your heart and soul into something, labour over the submission letter to meet their criterion precisely, driven by their website that says all queries WILL be responded to in 6 - 8 weeks, and you STILL haven't heard anything despite sending yet another SAE three months into it - well maybe they're just busy.
    At the eighth month stage now and yet not a peep, then I can only just imagine that they thought I wasn't even good enough to respond to. I imagine that they threw both my sae's in the trash ... along with my baby.
    Yes, thick-skinned am I fast becoming.

  5. I am more of a wolverine, for sure. I DID go through a period of time where I almost put down the pen for good, though. It took me about a week to get over it, and ever since, I am pretty okay with rejection and criticism (remember, okay doesn't mean it doesn't hurt, it just means it won't stop me).

  6. This was great for me to read because I'm a total wimp! I have a million excuses for why I don't send my work out, but none of them hold water...especially with my husband (who has done his best to toughen me up over the years...and it hasn't worked).
    I write family humor for a local paper and I get a lot of great feedback from readers who tell me they'd love to see my essays in a book. I finally decided to send it to an agent (Hartline) and within 15 minutes (not even enough time to read what I sent) I was rejected. The reason given was because they were already shopping around a title very similar to mine. I was happy to get a response, but yikes, it stings. I don't even want to send it out again...I'm hoping (against all odds) that someone will read what I have published each week and FIND ME! Yeah, I know - unlikely...but in my own little dream world, that's what will happen.
    Thanks so much for sharing that we aren't alone!

  7. I've got two cents in my pocket and figured I'd share, for what it's worth.
    A writer is an emotional creature by nature. If we don't have that, our characters are flat, our emotional responses are shallow and all in all our writing shows it. Right?
    Maybe it helps having a teenage daughter who is an artist and having to help her learn that all art is subjective, not everyone likes the same thing. I've had people loathe my writing and another person say it's the best they've ever read. Go figure. I've yet to submit anything, and I doubt (although I'm not positive) that I'll cry when the rejection letters start streaming in, I'm more likely to get mad and stomp around the house for five or ten minutes and then sit down and prove them wrong, but hey, any emotion works? Maybe? :p

  8. I collect rejections slips. A college Literature professor told me that I would have to be able to cover a wall with rejection slips before I would be published. He was almost right. But I have been published. Still, I wear my rejection slips as a badge of honor to my Muse.

  9. My mother, who was a poet and a writer of short fiction, dealt with her fair share of rejections. But one time, she sent a story off to a sci fi mag, and she received a single sentence rejection letter. So she sent another story off... and she got a single word rejection letter. So, she wrote a story based off of these two rejection slips about an editor of a magazine who was really an alien in disguise planning an invasion, and was sending her heroine one word rejection slips as a prelude to the invasion. My mother sent it off and got this in response:
    "If I receive one more story accusing me of being an alien, I shall call down my legions from deepest space and erradicate your puny human race."
    How's that for a rejection slip? My mother thought the whole situation was the funniest thing she had ever encountered.
    Thanks for the encouraging post.

  10. I agree 100%. I'm not certain how someone can be empathic enough to be able to write credible fiction, yet detached enough to seriously not care about criticism, especially if it's given with malice. (IMHO, some of it is.) BUT, we all have the capacity to learn resiliency. So bravo to you and the rest of us who feel, care and still write.

  11. Mary Jane Seale19 May 2010 at 03:41

    I try to be tough. I try and try and then I cry! Loved this. Natalie made me feel so much better about myself.


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