My week began with rejection.
In July, I had a request to read the full manuscript of my current novel by one of the top agencies on my dream list. Naturally, when you get a request for the entire book, you hope for the best.
It was a good rejection letter as far as rejection letters go. The agent appreciated my talent as a writer, and liked things I did with the story…but he didn’t fall in love with the manuscript. And that’s fine–I don’t take rejection personally.
Some people do take rejection personally, though. I’ve heard agents and editors talk about scathing letters they’ve received after sending rejections, and I’ve stumbled upon angry writers online venting about how furious they were after receiving a form letter saying an agent or publication was passing on their work.
If you have a tough time dealing with rejection letters, hopefully some of these tips will help:
Did You Send to the Right Place?
If I had to guess, I’d say most rejections are the fault of the writer receiving the rejection.
Agents stating they only consider material through recommendations still get unsolicited manuscripts. First time short story writers send things to The New Yorker. Journals publishing literary fiction receive swords and sorcery submissions.
If you send out blanket submissions and don’t take the time to research where you’re sending your writing, you’re going to get rejected.
If you sent your writing to the appropriate market, consider the next point.
Are You a Good Writer?
It’s not the easiest question to ask yourself, especially when you’re facing repeated rejections, but it’s an important question to ask yourself.
Writing takes time, and it’s easy to fall in love with what you’ve written. But right up there with actual writing talent is the ability to step back and see the good and bad in what we do.
If every time you finish a first draft you think you’ve written a masterpiece that people will be lucky to get to read, you’re either a rare genius, or more likely a bit full of yourself. If you can’t hold your own with the books people read (and I’m not just talking about, “I have better ideas!”–I’m talking about the talent to stand alongside your heroes and be seen), you need to keep practicing. (There’s no shame in not being a good writer–it takes time and if you stick with it, you’ll get there.)
Rushing something to market clogs the system for writers who have taken the time to get good, and it’s a waste of agents’ and editors’ time. It’s also a waste of your time.
If you’re not a strong enough writer to submit your writing, your time is better spent practicing–not sending out queries or stories and crossing your fingers.
If your chance of publication relies solely on luck or blanket submissions, you’re going to receive a lot of rejection letters.
If you’re a good writer and you still receive rejections, consider the next point.
Consider the Source
By considering the source, I don’t mean that an agent or editor you’re submitting to may not know what they’re doing. If you’ve researched your markets and give yourself enough credit to approach professional markets, you’re dealing with members of the Association of Authors’ Representatives and editors who don’t benefit from being assholes.
Agents and editors–despite the way it may seem–really do want to find stories they love. With the rejection I received at the beginning of the week, the agent made it clear that he appreciates my abilities…he just didn’t fall in love with the story. He’ll find a writer and story he falls in love with, and that person will have a great representative.
There’s a lot to consider when receiving a rejection letter. Sometimes you catch an editor on an off day. Sometimes you’re the 25th similar pitch an agent’s read that day. Sometimes a publication is flooded with so many submissions that your query or story may not get the attention it deserves.
Think about a bad day at your day job, when several people are demanding your attention and you’re facing deadlines. You probably hate those days. Chances are, you’re nowhere near as busy as an agent or editor on any given day.
If you receive a form rejection, it’s a total possibility that your query or story just arrived on a bad day.
If you receive a personalized rejection letter, congratulations–and take it all to heart.
What’s Really Being Said?
The gist of the rejection I received this week: “You’re a talented writer, and you create a great sense of place. But…there wasn’t enough narrative tension to pull me along through the plot.”
If I took rejection personally, I wouldn’t see that the agent did something he didn’t have to do: he gave me feedback! And I agree with the feedback.
In the three months it took him to read the manuscript, I polished the novel after noticing I could create more tension. (Oh, and did I mention that you shouldn’t bug an agent reading your full manuscript a week or two in with, “Have you read it, yet?!” Patience and tenacity go a long way when writing.)
If you get a personal rejection, you’re doing something right. Agents and editors–despite what many people seem to think–are under no obligation to do anything more than send a form rejection…or nothing at all.
If you’re looking for feedback, reread the second question above.
Sometimes It Really Is An Opinion
The literary world is full of stories of agents rejecting a future bestseller.
What works for one agent or editor may not be for others. With very few exceptions, I’m not a fan of science fiction. It doesn’t mean that science fiction is bad–it’s one of the best genres out there, full of imagination and predictions of the future. It just doesn’t do much for me.
I’m guessing there are a lot of people out there who would set my favorite novels down by the second or third pages.
Just because one agent doesn’t fall in love with your story doesn’t mean the next won’t. Literature is subjective; a big part of submitting is finding the right agent or editor to stand behind your writing. Those who don’t are still good people…they just have different tastes and it’s important to remember their rejection may be nothing more than a matter of personal taste.
Would you really want somebody not enthusiastic about your writing representing you?
Above All: Don’t Take It Personally!
I’m not saying rejection never stings, or that you should create an impervious shell around you that makes you cynical about the industry. But a thick skin is a good thing.
If you’ve worked hard enough to reach a professional level of talent, any rejection is a matter of business–not a personal knock against you and your writing.
If you’ve taken the time to get good and you take rejection personally, you’re in the wrong business. Seriously, stop right this moment and never submit another word!
But if you roll with the punches and always push yourself to get better, there will be a day you don’t get a rejection letter, but instead–a call from an agent or editor saying they loved your writing and want to represent or publish you.