Rejections suck, no doubt about it. However, it’s what you do after getting rejected that can determine whether or not you will ever be a successful writer. So let me share my experiences. Remember, your reality will likely differ from mine. Everyone’s writing path is unique. But the takeaway message I’m trying to convey is “Don’t give up too soon.”
Wasting Your Writing Years
The first time I attempted to find an agent, I sent out about 90 queries. In response to my queries, I received some partial and eventually full manuscript requests, but no offers of representation. Now, if this had happened today, with the knowledge of the industry at my fingertips, I would know that I had been very close to securing an agent. But I didn’t know this at the time, and I did the worst possible thing.
I gave up.
I quit writing for about five years. For five years I wallowed in self-pity and the belief that I would never be good enough to get traditionally published. Instead of continuing to try to improve my craft, I moved on to other creative outlets. I would give so much to get those five years of potential writing time back, but they are gone forever.
Don’t let that happen to you.
Know Where You Are in the Process
Make sure you understand the publishing process and the indicators that you are writing at a professional level. Agents don’t say nice things in their rejection letters just to “be nice.” This is a business. The bar is set high for success. If an agent says something like, “Not this one, but I’d like to see something else from you,” or “I’ve made some suggestions for changes. If you want to do them and let me read this again, I’d be happy to take a second look,” they aren’t trying to spare your feelings. They mean exactly what they’ve said. They like your writing style, if not that particular story. They want to find something from you that they think they can sell.
What Is a Reasonable Number of Rejections to Expect?
Don’t stop after a handful of rejections. When writers query agents or publishers, they usually start with the biggest names, the ones making the huge sales and six-figure deals. But remember, those are the same agents and publishers that everyone wants. They are also the same agents and publishers who already likely have a full stable of authors and aren’t taking on new writers unless it’s for something incredibly amazing.
And this means you are extremely likely to get rejected by them. All of them.
So you get twenty or thirty rejections from the top tier of your list. Okay. So what? I’ve talked to so many writers who tell me they gave up after twenty rejections and I just stare at them. Twenty rejections is NOTHING! There are hundreds of agents. Get your butt back out there and query some more…a LOT more.
My second agent hunt took about 106 queries before I did sign with an agent. When she eventually left agenting due to health reasons, I sent about 120 queries before getting SEVEN offers of representation. When the agent I chose also later left the business, my third round of queries took about 150 and resulted in FOUR offers of representation.
Tell me you’re giving up on a manuscript after you’ve sent at least 120 queries. Then take some writing courses, write another novel, and try again.
Make Sure the Problem Isn’t Your Craft
When I was querying, I was receiving indicators that my craft wasn’t the issue. My rejections spoke of liking my voice, my style, my stories, and my characters. I was getting full requests with some frequency. But I also write in quirky mixed genres, so I knew it was more a matter of finding an agent who not only loved the work but would take a chance on being able to actually sell it. Different feedback might mean you need to work on craft before querying further, but it doesn’t mean to give up.
Turning Rejections into a Positive
Celebrate your rejections. Yes, you read that correctly. Celebrate them. Every rejection you receive means you completed a piece of work and dared send it into the world. This is an action worthy of respect, not despair.
My spouse came up with the idea of holding “Rejected Parties” for the local writing group once a month. You could not attend unless you had either sent out work in the previous month that could potentially be rejected or you had received a rejection for something within the last month. We would print out our rejections, gather at a local restaurant, order a round of drinks, and take turns reading our rejections out loud to the table. Then we would crumple up the printed paper rejection, all of us would say, “Screw you so-and-so” to whomever sent it, and throw it into the middle of the table in a big pile. Then we would take a drink.
This served three purposes. One, it pushed people to write and revise more frequently. No finished work to go out meant no party invitation. Two, it reminded all of us that EVERYONE gets rejected, even those of us who already had agents or even some published works. And three, it honored the writers who completed work and risked rejection.
Every rejection is a badge of honor. Honor each and every one.