Books: Rejection Proof by Jia Jiang

So many of my writer friends and colleagues will say things like, “You just need to get your 100 rejections!” They love this book. So when I saw it at the library on a NaNoWriMo display, I picked it up. And honestly, while some of it was interesting, I don’t think it really applies to the form(s) of rejection writers face.

Jiang wanted to be an entrepreneur. He was so miserable not being an entrepreneur that his wife gave him six months to go do just that. He gathered a team to develop an app. But when the investor they pitched it to ultimately declined, he was devastated by the rejection. So Jiang decided to make himself “rejection proof” through a kind of exposure therapy. He launched a “100 Days of Rejection” campaign, actively seeking to be rejected by making wacky requests of people. If he got used to hearing “no” maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much.

This book follows Jiang’s rejections—many of which weren’t. Jiang dives into the psychology of it, the ways to get “yes,” and how to politely reject someone without hurting them. But there are some flaws in taking all this and applying it to something like querying a manuscript.

  1. Jiang says to ask “why” when someone rejects you. Usually the reason isn’t personal, and you can feel better about the “no.” However, it’s pretty common knowledge that, if you don’t get feedback with a rejection to a query, you’re not supposed to pester by demanding to know why. I guess you could still email back and ask, but don’t bank on a response. Agents are often too busy for that, and they may not even remember exactly which book was yours to begin with.
  2. Jiang’s requests were for things he didn’t particularly expect—or even want—to receive. Like a haircut from a dog groomer. It’s a lot easier to laugh about and walk away from a “no” you never really wanted. And while, yes, I understand and even do believe the mantra that you should not be attached to outcomes, that you should only focus on what you can control, that’s not always entirely possible. “Hope springs infernal,” I always say. If we could turn off our hearts, our wants, we would. Life would be so much easier that way!
  3. Jiang became famous pretty early on in his experiment when a video he made went viral. He went on national television. Clearly he got a book deal. His fame most assuredly had an impact on everything that came after. So I’m not sure he can say he’s faced rejection in the same way an average no-name has. If people around Austin (where he lived at the time) recognized him, if they saw he was videoing them, they were possibly more likely to be agreeable to his requests. If I were to become abruptly famous, even for those fifteen minutes, maybe I’d have a better chance at a book deal, too.
  4. “Everyone has a number.” Jiang says that you just have to keep asking until you get a “yes.” That’s a nice idea, and it’s true. But the fact is, for writers at least, you may never get a “yes.” I’ve queried some manuscripts upwards of 100 times and never gotten anywhere. Yes, even after tweaking both the query and the manuscript. Sometimes, no matter how nicely you ask or how patient you are, it isn’t going to happen. Not to bring anyone down, but false hope can be more painful than reality sometimes.

This is a fairly quick book to read, though mostly anecdotal. Jiang goes through various rejection attempts and talks about what he learned from each of them. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, though. And I’d say a lot of what he discusses is more applicable to, say, sales and marketing than someone trying to get their book represented.

I will say, in the chapter on how to say “no,” I wished agents would read it! Jiang writes about how “yes, but” is harmful, as is “unfortunately.” Almost every rejection from an agent, form or personalized, is designed that way. “This was interesting but unfortunately…” I’d much rather have a direct “no thanks, here’s why” than be told they liked it and yet, for some unknown reason, don’t plan to accept it. I realize agents think they’re being kind, but it’s really not.

Do I recommend this book? Eh, maybe. Do I think it’s a great resource for writers seeking to beat rejection? Not really.