Rejection. The word connotes so many things to so many
people. Unrequited love, bad break-ups. Broken hearts, missed opportunities.
Unattainable goals. But to a writer, it means only one thing. Someone has
decided that your hard work and effort isn’t enough. Ouch. The good news is
we’ve all been there. Show me a writer without a rejection and I’ll show you my
three-headed monkey, Jacques, who does tricks for tequila shots.
Rejections come in all shapes and sizes. Most commonly for
Newbies, they are the purview of the dreaded SASE, the self-addressed stamped
envelope that accompany every submission. Newbies fret about SASE’s. We fret
about return addresses, postage, fonts. We fret about, well, anything and
everything that might turn off a prospective agent or publisher. The world of
publishing can be a mystical place when you aren’t familiar with the inner
I’ve got news for you. Sometimes, the rejection train
continues through the station. There are requests for partials that are
rejected. Entire manuscripts that are rejected. There is an ongoing process of
refusals and eliminations as a new writer searches for someone, anyone who will
say those magic words – “I’d like to represent you” and “Here’s your three-book
multi-million dollar pre-empt.”
Don’t forget that agents get rejections too. I imagine it’s
just as hard for an agent who falls in love with a project and can’t place it.
Just because you have an agent doesn’t mean that the train will never leave the
And I know you’ve heard it. We’ve all heard it. You aren’t a
real writer until you get a rejection. Okay, I’ll buy that. But I also believe
you aren’t a real writer if a rejection stops you from continuing to write.
There is nothing like your first rejection. Your fifth isn’t any easier. The
trick is – NEVER GIVE UP. Keep writing. Keep submitting. You must adapt and
conquer. You can’t let a rejection derail your process.
Two and a half years ago, I’d just finished my first book. I
was cocky, arrogant, certain that it was the best book ever written. I sent out
a ton of queries and received a ton of rejections. Ninety percent were form
letters – to which I sent a thank you note. Eight percent were directed to me
and addressed the manuscript directly – to which I sent a thank you note. One
percent were handwritten notes that really touched me – to which I sent a thank
you note. I figured that the least I could do was be polite, even if they
weren’t. Gave me a sense of having the upper hand, left me in control. Dumb,
There was one yes. I danced in my kitchen, tears running
down my face. I called hubby, who didn’t answer. I called my parents and did my
Sally Field impression. Hubby called back. I married a practical man. He
promptly Googled said agency and informed me that they had issues. Like,
possible Preditors and Editors issues. The more we looked, the less enticing
the company seemed. Yes, they charged fees, but they were simple ones, copying,
etc. No, they weren’t a member of AAR, but they had an application in. No, they
wouldn’t let me see a list of writers they represented. I hemmed and hawed and
decided that as much as I wanted to have an agent, maybe they weren’t right for
They did one great thing, though. They read the manuscript
and told me, flat out, that while the writing was great, there was nothing in
the story that set it apart from the rest of the market. Major ouch. Once I got
over the sting, I had to admit they were right. I was reading voraciously then,
getting into new writers and series. I realized that nope, I wasn’t the
greatest. But I could work hard and try to be the greatest. I scrapped all but
the opening scene and wrote a new book.
That got a couple of whopper rejections too.
I’ve been very lucky. I haven’t had a major rejection in a
while. Several small ones, but the last real doozy was right before I landed my
agent. A friend got that 2nd manuscript in front of a major NY
editor. Noises were made that said editor really liked the way it was going. I thought
I was in, that this was the one. NOT. I received a kind, flattering note that
explained, in real terms, why the manuscript didn’t work. I was, as I always am
when I receive word like that, heartbroken. I went through all of the
appropriate emotions. Pity. Bleak, melancholy periods of cheerless funk.
Peeved, persecuted, unwanted. Unloved.
Okay, so it wasn’t that bad. Yes, it smarts when someone you
really want to work with says no. But there’s usually a reason. Once I was over
my fit of pique, I re-read the editor’s suggestions. I realized that they were
spot-on. They addressed a couple of issues that I too had with the manuscript.
So I rewrote it. I worked hard on the issues the editor raised. I found my
independent reader and got her perspective, then edited some more. I redid my
synopsis, my elevator pitch got tightened, I made the manuscript and its
presentation the very best it could be. And I landed an agent. Who promptly,
enthusiastically sent the manuscript out – and received a handful of rejections.
It seemed that this particular manuscript just wasn’t meant to be.
So I wrote a new one. Same characters, a continuation if it
became a series, stand alone if it didn’t. Jury’s still out on this one.
My point is, while you must never give up, sometimes, you
have to start over. If you’ve gotten 40 rejections on your manuscript, all form
letters, no requests for partials, something may be wrong with your query. If
you’ve sent out a 40 partials and are still getting rejections, rethink what
you’re sending. The first 30 pages have to grab the reader. Hell, if you can’t
catch their interest within the first five, you’ve got problems. If your
partials, or fulls, are being returned with regularity, you might just have to
My feeling is you can always go back to an earlier
manuscript. Forward momentum makes a writer, not the number of rejection slips
Time for the amateur psychology.
To that end, revel in your rejections. Recognize that they
aren’t a reflection of you personally. Most times, they simply represent
material that an agent or publisher hasn’t fallen in love with. Write them
something new that they will.
Rejection Do’s and Don’ts
Do – Give yourself permission to be upset when a
rejection comes. If a piece of chocolate or an ice cream cone will make you
feel better, then have it. Enjoy a drink with friends. Be social.
Don’t – Comfort yourself with destructive behaviors,
like going out on the town and ending up blowing in a tube. It’s just a
rejection letter, not the end of the world.
Do – Go for a walk.
Don’t – Burn your manuscript, shred your notes, and
delete all the files on your computer. Seriously.
Do – Take a day off from writing and read a book.
Don’t – Call all your friends and tell them you’ve
decided not to be a writer anymore.
Do – Step away from the computer for a few hours,
allow yourself a break from the cycle.
Don’t – Call the originator of your rejection to ask
why they didn’t like your project. Really, that’s just not a good idea.
Do – Reorganize your office.
Don’t – Quit writing.
Do – Something productive that will allow you to feel
better. My personal favorite? Staples therapy. New pens always put me in a
Don’t – Give up. We’ve all been there. Commiserate
for a day, then get back to it.
There will be more rejections in your life. But if you
persevere, there will be bigger triumphs in the end.
Wine of the Week – Straccali Chianti DOCG