The R word. It’s not one anyone likes to hear, whether you are an author, an agent, or an editor.
As an author out on submission you will likely receive rejections at some point when you’re querying agents. You might get a form rejection (that’s personalized and signed by the agent or a general one), or a more thorough pass complete with why the agent or editor is passing. Other agencies (including M&O) do not respond to unsolicited queries unless interested. When moving from snail mail to email queries, the volume of submissions tends to significantly increase as sending an email is so quick and easy.That said, many agents receive hundreds of queries a month which may make it hard for them to respond to each one let alone give feedback.
My advice is to try to not feel slighted or take it too personally. We read each query that comes in and give it our full attention. We aren’t looking to reject. We’re looking for that next project to fall in love with. We realize this might be frustrating to you as an author and understand you want to improve your craft and get your work into the hands of readers. As agents, we want nothing more than to help writers do that. But, sometimes you aren’t quite ready yet, which is why we pass and there is nothing wrong with that.
Remember: sending out rejections is hard for us too, as agents, as we know how it feels! Many writers might not think of this, but agents get rejected too. When we send out a client’s project to editors, we’ll likely get some rejections. Even if an editor is in love with a premise, they might not fall in love with the writing, or connect with the characters. We all have slightly different tastes, so sometimes it can take some time to find that perfect match.
Or, we might be vying for a hot project we found in our queries that has received 10 offers of representation from other agents. We may want that project just as much as the other agents or even more, but sometimes we lose out. If an author has multiple offers of representation, they may pick another agent who they click with more or has more experience. This is hard for any agent and this happens to most of us at some point in time. There will most likely be some rejections before we get that yes! We want a yes just as much as you do.
Like writers and agents, editors receive rejections too. They might love a project and send it to their boss and their boss might say no. Or, they might take it to acquisitions and sales and marketing says no.
The bottom line is we all get rejections and it’s never easy. So you may ask, what can I do as a writer to avoid rejection? While I can’t tell you that there is a way to completely avoid rejection, I do have some tips that might help you receive less.
1) Make sure you are ready. Never send out a first draft on submission. I have yet to meet anyone who has written a perfect first draft. Often a first draft is a bit jumbled and isn’t fully fleshed out. You manuscript should have had several reads, and not just by you and a family member or friend. Every writer should be in a critique group with others who write in their genre. The best are those with a mix of published and unpublished writers so you can learn from people in a similar place to you and those at the next step. Check out Shira’s great post on getting the most out of your writing group for more.
Even after a few rounds of revision, that first novel you write may not be the one that you should query with. Often it’s not. Many writers don’t send out a novel to agents until they’ve written 2 or 3, or even more. Only you will know when you are at that place when you feel truly ready to submit. As with many crafts, you get better with practice. There are few writers who place the first project they’ve ever written with an agent and then subsequently a publisher.
2) Find your footing. Send out a project to a handful of agents and see what feedback you get and then re-evaluate. Did anyone request the full? Were the passes positive? If you’re not getting close it might be time to think about going back to the drawing board and starting something new or revising. Of course, make sure you’re sending to agents who accept your type of work and know the market. You should always be reading current books in your genre. How does yours stand out?
3) Network. Meet with other writers. Go to writer’s conferences and mingle with industry professionals or sign up for a critique session with one. Conferences can be a great place to make connections. Often, editors and agents will give conference submissions more priority. I personally respond to all conference submissions I receive and provide feedback. Having contacts in the publishing world can make a big difference in response time, getting noticed, and getting an agent.
With rejection, the trick is to learn how to handle and process them and turn them into something positive. You may be wondering, how do I do that?
1) Take some time to process each rejection. You might feel hurt or upset at first and that’s normal.
2) Read the feedback carefully and see if anything resonates with you. Are many agents giving the same reason for passing? That’s likely an area you need to re-work. Look at rejections in a constructive way. What can I use here to make my manuscript better?
I wanted to share some words of advice from my lovely and talented client, Sarah Marsh. Her debut comes out with Sky Pony Press in Spring 2016!
“Whether getting rejections at the query or submission stage, the same couple of things kept me going. First, I realized that everyone gets rejections–because not every editor or agent loves all the same books. I understood that I was never alone in feeling down, and that it’s okay to feel that way for a little while after someone passes on your work.
I also realized rejection is important for showing us what’s not working in a story, and what to improve upon. Every rejection puts you one step closer to a yes, provided that you learn and grow from an agent or editor’s valuable feedback! I also saved compliments from positive rejections so that when I had a really rough day, I could read them and focus on what works in my writing!
Above all, whenever I got a rejection, I chose to see it as a challenge. To keep moving forward despite the negative, knowing that with every pass, I was that much closer to the dream!”
Remember why you write and how that makes you feel. I hope you write because you enjoy it! Always come back to this, because this is the most important thing. Write for yourself first and foremost. Tell stories you need to get on the page and keep writing. If you’re dedicated enough, success will often follow. All it takes is one yes!
3) Lastly, don’t give up! Even some of the top authors today (and of the past) have received rejections. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle received over 20 rejections by publishers because it was seen as too different at the time. Look at it now: It celebrated its 50th anniversary recently, won the Newbery Medal, is still in print and is considered a classic. Stephen King threw Carrie in the garbage. His wife found it, took it out of the garbage and told him she thought he had something. He finished it and it was rejected by many publishers before a publisher made an offer. The rest is history.
On a parting note, if you still need a pick-me-up, check out this Buzz Feed article: 20 Brilliant Authors Whose Work Was Initially Rejected: http://www.buzzfeed.com/stmartinspress/20-brilliant-authors-whose-work-was-initially-reje-7rut#.weaa6pApP