Dealing with Rejection


(Stop looking at the adorable gif and read on. I know it’s hard, but do it!)

Let’s say that you walk into a bookstore. What do you do? Pick up the nearest book! You look at the cover and it seems cool, so you flip it open to the first page. Not bad. Maybe even good enough to get you to look at more. But somewhere along the way, you figure out this book isn’t for you, put it back on the shelf, and go to the next book.

It might take you an hour, or even all day, before you find THE book you want to read.

Literary agents also feel this way. Sometimes, they know the minute they read your query that this book isn’t for them. It’s nothing against you, the writer, or your plot, or your characters, or even how you presented yourself (if you did it right)… it’s just not their thing. Some agents may ask for a little more, just to see if it IS their thing. Then, they might still say no.

Don’t take it personally.

Either it is their thing, or it isn’t, and if it isn’t, you don’t want them representing your book. You want someone passionate about your book, who loves it just as much as you do, who secretly hopes you’ll write more books, just so they can love another set of characters (or learn more about these characters).

You see, agents make their living off selling books. Sometimes it takes months or even years to find a publisher for even a book the agent absolutely loves. Agents have to keep in mind their literary connections (could they sell a book like yours?), the market (is this “in” right now or something new that might be more controversial?), your product itself (what age group does it target? how does it differ from what’s on the market? is it competing with other books they represent?), and the word length (is it too long?). They have to be picky! This is their bread and butter, and if they don’t think they can represent your book like it should be represented, they’re going to pass. It’s not about you or your book, it’s about them.

If you’re a writer, don’t give up. There IS someone out there waiting for your book. But just like you might have to dig through 100 books in a bookstore to find the one that’s perfect for you, you might have to be one of those 100 books that gets picked up, glanced at, pages thumbed around, and put down, before that Special Someone picks you up, carries you to the counter, and drives you home.

Rejection is a part of life. Much of the time, it’s not personal, yet often we think it is. We let it eat away at our confidence, and make us question ourselves (is this book even any good? What was wrong with it that they said no? Will anyone ever want to sell it for me?). Why do we do that? Would we want every movie, book, piece of music, or bit of art to feel rejected if we didn’t like it, but other people did? That’s silly, isn’t it?

So remember this when you’re querying:

  • Agents are human too: they have likes, dislikes, and prefer certain writing styles. Some agents want a J.K. Rowling. Some agents want a Stephanie Meyer. Some agents want a George R.R. Martin. Very different styles, very different stuff, but all of them found an agent to represent their work.
  • Rejection doesn’t mean your stuff is bad, just that it wasn’t the perfect fit for that person. If you’ve written and rewritten it, had it proof-read, tweaked it, run it past other readers and writers, and gotten a thumbs up, don’t doubt it. Stay passionate about it. (And keep writing more books!)
  • Asking to read more, then turning it down doesn’t mean you failed; it means you’re good enough to get even someone who might not sell it to read more. It also means your query letter is GOOD!!
  • Perseverance pays off. Keep at it. The right agent for you might be number 133 on your list, but it might be number 133 that absolutely loves your book, signs you up, gets you a publishing deal, and then negotiates the movie rights. Work your way through as many agents that represent your genre as possible—and don’t be afraid to be bold!

Happy writing!

11 thoughts on “Dealing with Rejection

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  1. Great post Charity! (lol, and cute gif you chose to start off the entry ;))

    While I’m nowhere near launching the submission process (a good reminder that I should be editing my draft), it’s a nice reminder of the process to come and something that is also applicable to other aspects of life 🙂

  2. Bu–but the GIF is a kitten….it even looks like one of my kitties–* cough * Yes–uh, the post, rejection, right.

    Good post! Though I know that it’s realistic to expect a few rejection letters, and that this is part of making your bones as an author, I’ll admit that thinking in terms of 100 + submissions is hard to wrap the mind around.

    Then even if–no–when one gets published, there’s the critics to deal with, and the public if your work becomes famous enough. The snarky blog posts, the parodies, the fanfic… 😉

    Right now I’ll admit, I’m not at the stage where this is a concern for me, I’m too busy finishing (and researching!) my novels. But I know one day I will have to face this–so I’m going to bookmark this post, and print it out and put it above my desk when the time comes for me to start sending out queries and submissions.

    Haha–your remarks about being an editor remind me of Isaac Asimov, he said as a teen/young adult he toiled away on his science fiction stories, but was “not yet vain enough” to think anyone would want to read them. Finally he plucked up his courage to submit some to popular pulp magazines of the day. He was rejected, but among the rejections was a letter from one editor, “a letter so kind that it froze me into a state of permanent vanity”. Afterward he pounded away on his typewriter more furiously than ever, and sent out more stories–until one was accepted.

    Agatha Christie was rejected over 200 times! Wow! (So I guess this means sometimes the right agent might be 233 on the list? 😉 )

    1. I know, it’s an adorable gif. Itty bitty Emmy Rossum is pretty darn adorable too!

      Being overwhelmed with the idea of sending queries to over a hundred agents is… very easy to do. That’s why you break them up into chunks; query these ten, then that ten, and so on. The hardest part is waiting. Waiting for rejection, waiting for interest, waiting for any response at all (and some never give it to you). Then, there’s the occasional rejections that come with compliments, which make you wonder, “If you liked it so much, and you thought my writing was sharp and funny, why didn’t you accept it?” But… God is in His heaven, and He knows what He’s doing.

      I hope. 😉

      I do realize that getting an agent is just the beginning. Then, they must find you a publisher (more months of anxious waiting). Then, you have to do book signings (what if no one comes?) and interviews (what if you sound stupid?), and deal with the inevitable critics… yet, I’ve also come to the realization that… who cares? I hate some books, love other ones. It’s a matter of taste alone. Go on Goodreads, and you’ll find 10,000 “this is the best book ever, it’s so well written, blah, blah, blah,” comments, and an equal amount of “oh my god, how did they get this published? it’s utter tripe and the writing sucks!!”

      Fanfic… oh, ee, ah… if they slash my characters together, I will hunt them down. =P

      … sadly, yes. It may be 233!

    1. I’m right in the middle of it. Elated to get requests for partials and fulls, disappointed to check my e-mail and get a rejection. All I can say is — keep at it, believe in the product you’re selling them, and sooner or later, the perfect agent will turn up.

      I know what it’s like to be on the other end — as a magazine editor, I have to turn down stuff all the time, both from writers I work with a lot and first-timers. That’s always the hardest, knowing that my rejection might crush their dream of being a writer. But the ones that do it right (as in, read the official writer’s submission guidelines) and are persistent WILL get printed. Of course, I’m nicer than a lot of editors — if a kid sends in something, I’ll polish it up for them and print it, usually. =)

  3. I’m always encouraged by the stories of now-famous writers who submitted and submitted and submitted (and submitted) and because they didn’t give up, we now have their stories.

    1. I think I read somewhere that Agatha Christie was rejected over 200 times — and now she’s the best-selling mystery author of all time. So — persistence and the ability to keep writing even though no one else (yet) loves it certainly goes a long way.

  4. Wonderful post, Charity. This is so true. We do let rejection eat away at our self confidence but in reality, most of the time, we shouldn’t take it personally – especially a situation you are describing. Great advice.

    (Keep your chin up! :D)

    1. If you tip your chin up too far, you’re looking at heaven — which for a Christian, is probably the best place to look!

      Rejection can carry into all aspects of your life — “why didn’t that guy ever call me back? didn’t he like me? did I say something wrong?” or “why didn’t that girl want to be friends? I liked her, but she never wants to hang out — is it because I’m blunt?” You have to be careful not to let them destroy your spirit, because sometimes it really ISN’T you — it’s them.

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