Newbie Post #12: 5 Silver Linings in Those Rejection Letters

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Ahh, the rejection letter. The big “R”. That nasty little email we wait and wait for, only to drown in sorrows when it arrives. But is it really all that bad? Um, yeah, it is, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Here’s 5 reasons why those R’s can be a force for good:

1) I’ve sent out thirty queries and all I have to show is an inbox full of form rejections. (And that doesn’t include all the “no response means no”)
Okay, yeah, this is the worst. You’ve spent months, maybe years, perfecting that novel. Then months (hopefully not years) perfecting that query. Not to mention the agents who want a synopsis. And of course, every agent has different requirements: No attachments – Everything in the body of the email – PDFs only – Word doc only – Synopsis – No synopsis – 1st 10 pages – 1st 3 chapters and on and on . . .

You’ve worked your butt off and all you get is a lousy form rejection. And it’s headed with Dear Author, or maybe they used a name, just not your name. It can feel like utter, abject failure. But you’re wrong. First, let’s look at that statement: You’ve worked your butt off. You have! You know more about how to write a query, what to avoid, what agents might be interested in your work than you did before you started. It may not be much conciliation at this point, but just think of the experience you gained. Most authors aren’t published on their first try, so failure at this point isn’t really failure. It’s just one step in a long journey, so don’t stop now! (Incidentally, 30 queries isn’t that many, so don’t stop at thirty!)

2) I’ve received several requests for partial or full submissions, but they’ve all come back with a form rejection. Yup, this one’s hard too! You’ve gotten your hopes up that maybe, just maybe, an agent or publisher is going to like your work, then bam! None for you! But yes, there’s a sliver lining here too. So said agent or publisher read your letter. Either they liked your query, or the writing sample, or both. Worst case (and you’ll never know) they weren’t very impressed by the writing or query, but thought the premise of your story was interesting enough to give it a try. Unfortunately you have no idea why they decided to reject, but you do have something. The query worked. Or maybe your writing sample was strong. The idea has promise. Maybe the agent didn’t connect with it (universal agent code for they don’t want to represent this story) but that’s okay. From what I gather, an agent has to really be in love with an MS to represent it. You may just have to go through a lot of query letters before you find the agent that does. So keep sending out those queries, because clearly something is working.

3) I received a personalized rejection on my full submission telling me what they didn’t like about the story. Well, honestly, this one isn’t too bad. Rejections suck in all forms, but knowing why an agent didn’t fall head-over-heels with your novel is fantastic. Why? Because you know what you can work on. Or, in one case for me, I knew that agent wasn’t right for me anyway, so I didn’t feel bad about the rejection. She thought the story was going to be more character driven by my query and writing sample, but was disappointed to find out it had a lot of action. Cool! I have no intention of changing my YA novel to remove the action, so no biggie. She wasn’t the right fit. Now, had she said I did too much telling instead of showing, or the middle was boring and bogged down, or my MC was too whiny and annoying, then I have concrete things to work on. Not that you have to take what an agent says to heart. He or she is only one opinion, but it does give you something to think about.

4) I received a personalized rejection for this novel based on the query and the writing sample, but the agent asked to see my other work. Um, so just to be clear, there’s nothing sad about this! The agent liked your writing. Let me repeat: THE AGENT LIKED YOUR WRITING! This is golden. Not only are they asking to see more of your work, when you have something ready to send, there’s a good chance they will remember you! Be sure to mention your previous work and that they said X, Y and Z about it. Now is not the time to be shy. Consider this your personal invitation, because you now have a leg up on the entire slush pile!

5) I received a personalized rejection on my full submission, but the agent invited me to submit my future work. Once again, no frowny faces here! So they aren’t interested in representing this novel, which stinks, but there are often reasons. One of my latest rejections on a full was because the Post-Apocalyptic market is flooded and she didn’t think she could sell it. But she had many wonderful things to say about the manuscript. Take those compliments, store them in your little heart of hearts, and get back to work! You have agents who want to see future work, so make that future work. And make it as good or better than the novel they rejected. To repeat, this is a personal invitation. And just as a little tip, I got in the habit of telling the agents what I was working on next when I sent them my submission (I’m talking requested material, not query.) This generated interest by several agents in my next project. I have agents eager to see my next novel, and it isn’t even written yet!

So that’s all I have. There are many kinds of rejections, and I’m sure I didn’t highlight them all, but this should give you a little boost in finding that silver lining. Rejections are hard, no denying it, but if you want to do better, get better and be better, you must learn from them. I haven’t completely given up on I Have No Name, but I’m happy to save it for later while I work on another project. And I have learned so much about how to navigate this business in the mean time that my energies are far from wasted!

What have you learned from rejections that has helped you (or is currently helping you) to be a better writer and make the next one stick?

More of my posts on querying:

Queries! Queries! Queries! : Researching Agents

Queries! Queries! Queries?? How to Write a Query Letter

Agent Research: I Forgot to Tell You Something!

How I Got My Agent (Or the art of never giving up)

The Query Process: Its Own Brand of Crazy!

Reject Key Means Decline Or DenyAs if the grueling process of writing an entire novel isn’t enough, now you have to find an agent to represent your book for its best chance of publication!

I know I jokingly said in an earlier post something to the effect of, “How much time can querying agents take?”, but that was a little tongue-in-cheek. I actually knew researching agents, crafting personal letters and compiling submission material to meet guidelines would be time consuming, I just didn’t realize how much.

And that’s not even considering the mental and emotional strife I’m dealing with. *Refresh email* *Refresh email* *Refresh email* *Partial request!* (Writer’s high) *Form Rejection* (Writer’s low) I think that’s why I find myself emotionally distancing myself from my novel right now. A rejection sends me into a flurry of, “What did I do wrong? What can I fix?” The emotional distance of finding the right business partner for the business document I have written is far less mentally taxing than waiting to see if a brilliant lit agent I admire will give my literary baby a nod of acceptance.

And it’s only week two. I’ve only dipped my toe in to the proverbial shark-infested waters. I’m not calling you literary agents sharks by any means. It’s just that to a writer seeking approval, it can feel like our egos are chum floating in the mixed waters of self-confidence and abject misery. *sigh*

Well, off to research more agents, try to find someone you think you can connect with through nothing but interviews and webpages, and write another sparkling query that will hopefully garner the right attention. This is far harder than actually writing the book, but I would like to say “Thank you!” to all the agents who have taken the time to read my letters. It can be just as hard for an agent to find that diamond in the slush pile, as it is for we writers to find the perfect partner for a literary career.

What kind of querying experience have you had? Do you use a rejection spike for rejection letters? What helps you to keep going, even after multiple rejections? And how many rejections before you say you’ve had enough and move onto another project?