Dealing with Rejection Letters from Agents and Publishers
1.) Don’t take it personally. Unless the person sending you a rejection letter knows you personally, it probably isn’t personal. Most industry professionals don’t have the time to bother getting personal with people they don’t know, and are not very professional if they spend their time belittling strangers. If you get a letter with any specifics concerning your project, it is likely because they felt your project deserved their attention, if not their acceptance.
2.) Remember, you are not alone. This isn’t in the space-alien sense of ‘we are not alone’. You are not alone in being rejected. Virtually every author you can think to name has been rejected, and rejected often. Stephen King? Rejected. Frank L. Baum? Rejected. Galileo? Persecuted (there are always critics). Rejection places you with some admirable company, if some not so admirable at the same time.
3.) They’re probably right. Often, a rejection letter includes in the message something to the effect of ‘this isn’t right for us at this time’, or ‘we don’t believe we can give this project the necessary attention’. Either of these statements are probably true. Someone who cannot get behind the project enough is doing everyone a favor by not becoming involved. Do you really want someon who can’t give your project the necessary attention, or that think they are not ready to handle it? As tough as it may be, you actually want these people to reject you. Your project deserves the most attention it can receive.
4.) There are plenty of fishermen in the sea. As writers, we are swimming in a vast ocean with other fish. Many of these ichthyological prosers are not more dedicated than to send out a small handful of query letters and wait to see if someone drops a line of bait their way. The writers that have found success are often the ones that seek out several different worms to bite at, and keep looking until some happy fisherman makes a catch. Perseverance is the key to hanging on the end of a line.
5.) They don’t know how great your project really is. Perhaps you need to find a way to become more convincing. Research how to write an effective query letter, synopsis, outline, or whatever else they may be requiring. If you jump through all the proper hoops, you’re more likely to be given a kipper at the end of the show.
6.) Act as if you know your project has great potential. Do your best to let the industry pros. know that your book will be rewarding to them on a financial level. When it comes down to it, as idealistic as a publisher or agent may be, most want to know if the project can succeed. Publishers want to have a project that will make them a bundle of bottom dollars, so don’t be afraid to intrigue them with your project.
7.) Don’t be afraid to re-edit your manuscript. This is generally if you’ve sent out a manuscript and had that rejected. With a query letter rejection, your letter wasn’t convincing. With a manuscript rejection, there may be things to tweak and twiddle until it is a more attractive project. While it can be scary and disheartening to revisit something you’ve poured your heart into, it can’t hurt to at least give it one more read. You wrote it in the first place, which is the hardest part of the project. Re-editing can actually be therapeutic after receiving a rejection letter.
8.) More is learned from failure than success. Most scientists will tell you that the greatest discoveries occured by accident. It was an accident that an apple struck Newton on the noggin. There is a reason people don’t say they learn by ‘trial and success’; learning by trial and error is how we grow as humans. A rejection letter is no reason to stop-it means someone is paying attention. Keep going, and make them sit up in their seats!
9.) Most publishers and agents don’t want to work all that hard. You may have gotten a rejection letter because your project doesn’t fit into an easily-recognizable genre like ‘romance’ or ‘science fiction’. On the other hand some industry pros. specialize in things different or quirky. Study the agents and publishers carefully to be certain that it fits into something they are interested in publishing, and make it simple in your query letter by defining your project clearly. “I would like to interest you in my 80,000 word science fiction farce novel.” or something to that effect. State clearly what genre you are writing, and be certain it is something the person you are writing to is even vaguely interested. Books like Writer’s Market or Guide to Literary Agents, both published by Writer’s Digest Books, are invaluable in finding the right place to send your work.
10.) Writing well is the best revenge. There’s no need for revenge against a industry pro., as tempting as a scathing letter or obnoxious phone call may be. Remember, these people have friends in the industry. Even if you never want to work with them, a nasty message could possibly get you into trouble and is not likely to help you out at all. Some people right a handful of novels before they ever find success. Keep writing, keep submitting, and keep planning your sweet, sweet revenge against anybody who ever rejected you. It may be one of those people that rejected one of your projects who accepts another and makes you world famous. They are not your enemy, and even if they are, you can take satisfaction in your success. If you felt you were kicked when you were down, let your being up be the return punt.
One last note on dealing with rejection. If you are reading this article, you are probably doing so while the author is spending the untold fortune he made writing it by soaking up the sun on some exotic beach you have never heard of and drinking Mint Juleps. Hopefully that makes you feel better, or at least shows that perseverance is the key to success.