Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Dealing with Rejection

We all hate that word, but in the publishing industry, this is something we have to learn to deal with, as much as we hate to. When you receive a rejection, either in person during a pitch session, or via email or snail mail, don't panic. Unless the person sending the letter or giving you the bad news openly tells you that you are the worst writer ever and have no business near a computer, just take it all in stride.

Follow a few short rules:

1) Do not get on the internet or start calling your friends to tell them what a jerk that person was. I will tell you, the information will get back to that agent or editor soon enough and if you did have something of quality later that might work, you have just shot your own foot. It will never happen.

2) Read the letter or listen to the comment. Take a few minutes to really think about what that person has said and work from that. In some cases you will find that it might be a subjective reason for the rejection. They just didn't like it. - Fair enough. Remember, we have to love it to want to pursue it. Maybe it was a matter of sending it to the wrong person, or was something they just weren't interested in. So learn from that. Take more time the next time to do some better research.

If they did give you some great feedback, learn from it. Go back to the manuscript before you start sending it to other places and consider those revision ideas. There is a pretty good chance if the problem is with the manuscript, it will show up in other rejection letters. If you have other manuscripts, check those to see if you are making the same mistakes.

3) If it is a form letter then make a paper airplane out of it. No, not really. There is a better solution here.

Turn the paper over, and start jotting down ideas for your next book. The thing to remember is that we can learn from the rejections.

We can grow as a writer and we can start with that feedback in that letter we once called ugly.



  1. Good post, particularly the last one. Even a form letter rejection has its uses.

  2. Again, what is the difference between a form rejection after submitting a partial or a more personal response rejecting your work but giving reasons. I'm sorry to be so dense but, in your case of being an agent. If you requested a partial and rejected it giving reasons would you let me resubmit if I revised the work or is it a dead issue with you as an agent once you rejected it? Could it be a case of the agent I am sending to just doesn't like my writing voice?

  3. The worst part is getting no feedback on a rejected partial. That's happened to me a few times.

    I never wrote back, though, didn't think the agent would bother replying since they didn't do it initally.

    Ah well, such is the life we chose when we want to be an author.

    Keep moving forward...

  4. Em-
    That is a good question. For the most part, when you receive a rejection, it is the end. If you receive a lot of feedback, I would suggest sending a quick note via email to the editor or agent and see if a re-submission is possible. In most cases, they say yes. Just remember to FULLY do all the things they say and to make sure it is back to them in a timely matter.

  5. Jenn,
    I hear your frustrations on that one. I am not sure what to say. I am of the opinion that if you send someone a "requested" partial or full, that it was really something they were interested in and therefore you would deserve to find out what didn't work between the pitch and the reading. I would hate to hear that the reason there are no comments is "the volume of submissions."

  6. Great post Scott.
    The process of the three‘R’s: Risk - rejection - reevaluation. This is the way I look at it. You take a risk and put your work out there and sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll get an insightful rejection that will give you the means to reevaluate your MS and see it from a different perspective.
    I often hear people say: So and so got ‘X’ amount of rejections before he was published and he sold 80 million copies. That may be true, but it certainly doesn’t mean that he kept submitting his work (despite the similar feedback he was receiving), without improving it.
    I often wonder (as in the case of this 80 million copy - best selling author) how much revision went into his MS from his first submission to his last?

  7. Thanks for the great answers Scott.
    Jenn, I have had this happen to me a couple of times. I hate it!
    Murphy, you're back and with an interesting question. I have never thought about the rejections VS revisions. I only thought that they were lucky sons of guns to finally be published!:)

  8. Taking a break from doing revisions. So, I kind of thought the topic was a timely one for me.

  9. I doubt any of the great ones had to revise their masterpieces. Good prose is good form. critiques are always subjective and to change the tone of your work at the suggestions made by someone who doesn't want it is foolhardy.
    Chin up and all that. If you think it is worthy send it in and someone is bound to buy it.

  10. Out of the 20 or so partial request I got, most of the agents loved my writing, but my protag is a little dark, and hard to like from just the first three chapters...

    Apparently anti-hero types don't work well with romance subplots.

    BUT...if I have a couple rejections with feedback from...say, 2008 and I've really reworked the book, should I re-query?

  11. Anon -
    In regards to these comments:
    I doubt any of the great ones had to revise their masterpieces. Good prose is good form. critiques are always subjective and to change the tone of your work at the suggestions made by someone who doesn't want it is foolhardy.
    Chin up and all that. If you think it is worthy send it in and someone is bound to buy it.

    There are often a ton of revisions but you need to understand the extent to the revisions deals with how much advance prep-work and planning an author does.

    As far as the send it out and someone is bound to by it comment, that is far from the case. You need to target the only houses and agents that your voice fits with and in all likelyhood, it is only 3 houses at the max. Your story just simply doesn't fit everywhere.


  12. Three houses max. If i thought that my hard work could only be placed in three places I'd never write again. I've had interest from more then that. Ive written freelance and i know how impressionable some newbies are. For someone to say that your work needs to be changed because an agent or editor didn't like it is not right. If you are happy with your work that is good enough! It worked for Dickens and Twaine. A good writer will do all his prepwork and planning well before he sends his book out. Rejections? Paper the walls of your bathroom with them. Ha! there's a good use for them I say. And keep writing.

  13. Anonymous: You have the benefit of good information and some wise comments. Are you reading them?
    Katie Tallen

  14. Yes, I understand three sounds difficult to digest, but if you sit in spotlight sessions at writing conferences and you read from different houses, you will notice that the voice of each is VERY distinctive.

    I understand that there is a belief that if it says "historical fiction" in the submission guidelines of one house it means the same for others. This is far from the truth.

  15. Really? Only three? It has been helpful to see more agent blogs. I've finally been able to see that even though the agency site, agent information, claims they are accepting many genres (which may still be the case,) the agent blog and their promos for new books tell a very different story. I finally was able to see that one of the "many genres" agents in reality seems to have bought nothing but high-end paranormals for years, and exclusively discusses and promotes her newest buys on the website. Fair enough. I won't waste more time sending other genres in that direction.
    But three, man oh man. And what does one do with the countless number of successful authors who insist that blanketing and shotgunning queries at the wall resulted in the first of many sales? Their opinion must be worth something. Very frustrating.

  16. Several things to remember with the agent sites...

    Yes they may take all genres but...

    they may be limited on space for certain types. If you want to submit there, your story better be better than amazing.


    you have to remember that even agencies have a specific voice for what they are looking for. By reading the writers that agency represents will give you an idea of their voice.

    In the end, just because they say they look does not mean they take everything.