Dealing with Rejection

Here’s something that’s no secret: Rejection sucks. We’ve all been there. Unless you were born under a lucky star, chances are that at some point you’ve been passed over for a promotion you wanted, were turned down for a date, didn’t get the job, lost a proposal… or had a literary agent or publisher tell you no. I was rejected about sixty times before I found my agent. And while she’s good, I expect more rejection in the future. It happens.

There’s only so much that can be done to avoid rejection, especially in a subjective industry like publishing. There are as many reasons to reject a work as there are agents or editors working (probably more). You really can’t control the fact that your work will likely be rejected at some point, unless your best friend/mom is the owner of a major publishing house. What you can control is how you react to it. So, let’s talk about handling query rejection for a bit (much of the same advice can be applied to not getting into contest or getting rejected by an editor).

If I go ahead and assume that your query was addressed to the right person, talked about a completed work within acceptable word count limits, and demonstrated a reasonable grasp of the language in which you’d like to publish it, the rejection probably is not a reflection of you personally (even if you made a mistake and addressed it to the wrong agent – which I’ve also done – it doesn’t make you a bad human being).

 I’ve been very surprised at some of the things I’ve seen:

  1. Trashing the agent in online forums. (Especially with your name or identifying information!)
  2. Posting on Twitter about how rude a rejection letter is. (Honestly, unless it said “You suck,” it probably wasn’t actually rude. It just may not have been what we all want to get.)
  3. Responding to call the agent an idiot.
  4. Attacking the agent on the street (Yes, this happened, and it’s horrible. Don’t be that person.)

These are all really bad ideas. I get it. Being rejected sucks. It feels insulting to get a rejection letter addressed to “Dear Author,” since I took the time to write my query to the agent personally. (I actually think I’d have preferred a letter that started with “Thank you for your submission” to “Dear Author.”) We all know that the rejections we get are form letters, so there’s no need to add insult to injury by calling it a “form rejection letter” IN the letter. I can read. I see what it is.

But vent about it privately, to friends or relatives. Don’t post it online. You don’t want to find an agent who loves your work – but passes because of something you posted out of anger or frustration. Better ways to deal with rejection:

  1. Cry.
  2. Take a bubble bath.
  3. Go for a run/walk/swim/Zumba… whatever works for you.
  4. Eat some ice cream.
  5. Binge watch Dawson’s Creek.
  6. All of the above.

And when you’re done, see what you can take from the experience. Try to figure out why the work was rejected. Is it 12,000 words? Is it 250,000 words? Did you send it to an agent that doesn’t represent your genre? Or do you need to revise your opening? As much as the rejections suck, you can use them to make your work better. I did, and it was after all that rejection, self-reflection, and revisions that I was able to submit a shiny, polished manuscript to my agent. She loved it, and you’ll find someone who loves yours.

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  1. I file my rejections pretty quickly, to cut back on obsessing over them. Actually, I almost missed a request one day, because it was a "Dear Author" request! I had to read it five times to make sure they really wanted me to send chapters. Takeaway: I read my rejections more carefully now, and "Dear Author" doesn't bother me anymore. 🙂

  2. When I received my first rejection letter (ok, email) I actually celebrated. Woo Hoo! I'm now officially a Writer. I have submitted a book to an agent, and have that rejection to prove it.

    Somewhere around rejection number 80, the novelty was definitely starting to wear thin. And I was feeling like I was running out of people to submit to. I contemplated giving this book up as a bad job and moving on.

    I didn't, and ended up with a publishing contract for TRAITOR KNIGHT. But that's a different story. The point of this one is that at no time during those 80 rejections did I ever publicly bash an agent's intelligence, taste, morals or parentage. Most of the rejection notices were too generic/form letter-ish to be considered 'rude'. Those that weren't sometimes offered a bit of feedback, or held at least a kernel of hope that someone (other than the agent in question) would fall in love with my story.

    Writers, like boxers, take a helluva lot of punishment. We get knocked down, but generally we get back up and come out swinging again. Often only to get knocked down again, and again, and yet again. Until that one glorious moment when we unexpectedly land that knockout punch, and the email or call finally comes: 'Hey! I really liked your story. Can we talk?'

    Those are the traits a writer needs to navigate the world of rejection.

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