Rejections: One ‘No’ Closer to ‘Yes’
A few lucky authors pursuing traditional publication will sell their first manuscript to the first editor they submit to or get an offer of representation from the first agent. For everyone else, rejections are a fact of life. And almost every author has received a bad review. No matter the stage of your career, you’ll have to learn to deal with and learn from rejections.
Most of us will experience some or all of these types of rejection:
• No response: some agency websites say if you query and they don’t respond within a certain time, they’re not interested.
• Form letters/emails: these can mean anything, but there’s no way of knowing what. Comments such as “this isn’t right for us” “doesn’t meet our current needs” “this didn’t work for me” “isn’t as strong as other submissions” “I didn’t fall in love” with the story or characters “just isn’t for me” “liked but didn’t love it enough” “not feel strongly enough” “not have sufficient enthusiasm” all mean that person just didn’t want your project.
• Form with handwritten comments: the editor/agent wanted to take the time to let you know something specific about your writing or submission.
• Personal: You’re getting close! The e/a feels strongly enough about you/your writing to take time to explain his/her thoughts.
• Revision letter: This is huge! Editors don’t make the effort to request revisions unless they’re very interested. While still a rejection in the short term, there’s a possibility of a relationship and/or sale in the long term. . .if you have patience and persistence. Only you can decide whether you agree with the changes they’re asking for and if you’re willing to invest time/energy to make them.
• Phone: You’re getting even closer. Offer to send something else before hanging up.
• In person: Rare, but they can happen. One type of in person rejection can be during a pitch, if the e/a decides not to make a request. I’ve even been rejected in person at a conference by an editor who had just read some of my work. She softened the blow by asking to see other projects.
• Indirect: not finalling in a contest you enter or getting requests from queries.
• Bad reviews: these can hurt because they’re public. And that 1 star can drag down your rating. There isn’t much you can do except seek out more reviews and hope they’re positive.
Ways to handle rejections
• If you need to, cry, eat chocolate, complain, rage, get sympathy and support from friends, allocate time for small doses of comfort. Then move on.
• Try not to take them personally. If you don’t develop a thick skin, this business could take a toll. View it as rejection of that project by that individual, not a rejection of you as a person or writer. Believe you are a writer and businessperson, rather than someone bravely sending her baby out into the world. It’s not always easy to find inner strength, but how you perceive each rejection is key. Rejection means you’re out there and following your dream. You are brave. . .there are writers who don’t have the guts to submit.
• Work on developing a positive attitude. You can’t control what happens once you submit or enter a contest, but you can control your attitude. Try positive reinforcement: write/read daily affirmations, post quotes, read reassuring articles, make a list of any compliments you’ve received and keep it handy.
• Love what you do. If you don’t LOVE what you’re writing, rejection is harder to accept. What is it about your writing, the writing process that you enjoy? Make a list and return to and rely on those things.
• Don’t dwell on each rejection or have all of your submission eggs in one basket. This will help you move on. Kresley Cole gave a workshop where she discussed having 25(!) submissions out at all times. These included contest entries, requested submissions, upcoming conference appointments and queries. I used to have at least ten things out at a time.
• Send out another query or submission.
• Write something new so you have more projects to market. Content is king in today’s market.
• Revise and resubmit when possible.
• What can you learn from this rejection? Some can actually be good things. . ..now you know that agent/editor may not be the one for you for this project or at this time in your career.
• Remember that many now famous authors collected dozens of rejections before they sold. And Thomas Edison failed hundreds of times before he found the right way to make the first light bulb. … “I did not fail a thousand times; I learned a thousand ways that didn’t work.”
• What can you change about what you’re doing:
Do you truly have best query letter you can have?
Can you put into words what makes your manuscript different from all the other Intrigues or Regencies, etc. out there?
Do you know your market and craft?
• Know that even published authors can face rejection. A friend recently had her option book rejected. Another hasn’t sold a second book. Another had several proposals and ideas rejected before ultimately selling her fourth book.
When is a no not a no
• In the rejection is a sentence asking you to send something else. If you’re still interested in that person, DO IT! I admit. Asking for more material is not something editors/agents say just to be nice.
• Consider requesting a second look if you’ve revised extensively (and maybe that new version won a contest or two). If you do, be sure to remind the e/a of your initial contact. Keep your personal rejections in case you want to remind her what she liked about your writing. Industry professionals don’t say good things lightly.
• Building relationships. Are you in this for the long term? Keep in touch with those who express interest in your writing. . .send an occasional update note, say hello at conferences, send thank you letters, when you have a new project ask if they’re interested in looking at it.
• Rare but it can happen: an e/a changes HER mind. An agent who had requested a partial of a historical had nothing but good things to say, but didn’t request the full because of her view of the state of the historical market. But when I spoke with her a few weeks later, she asked for the full. Why? Because the story and characters stayed with her.
Ways to avoid rejections
• Enter a contest. You’ll get feedback that might be useful, could attract editor/agent interest, develop credentials that some e/as value or become aware of personal likes/dislikes without receiving an actual rejection from that agency/house. Maybe that editor/agent is not the one for you. Example: FYH had finalled in a contest, but the final round editor judge wrote a note that she did not like the first scene. So if I were to submit to her house, I’d choose a different editor.
• Prepare and research in advance: different e/as like various things and some have specific preferences. Check websites, hear them speak at conferences, ask your friends, join writer e-mail loops, pay attention to what’s selling.
• Get your web site up and running. More and more I hear that e/as check them out if they are interested in your work. It’s one more thing in your favor.
• Have a high concept pitch or at least a snappy one sentence pitch for each project to quickly intrigue e/as.
• Know what makes you and your writing different and be able to concisely express the difference both verbally and in writing.