If you, as an author, feel beaten down by several rejections, perhaps you have this image of an agent reading your submission:
(Agent sits down at computer, armed with a steaming cup of Uber Expensive Coffee.)
“It is now time to go through my submissions!”
(Agent rolls up sleeves and cracks her knuckles. An evil grin dons her face as she opens the first email.)
“Aha! I can write a form letter rejection! How I Love. Crushing. Dreams!”
Okay, maybe this is over the top. I used to write novels, you know.
But really, I hate that my office has to send so many rejection letters. Seriously. And you know what?
We are forced to reject excellent books!
And I have to turn down authors I’ve met at conferences. Authors I genuinely like and have a real connection with. Authors who radiate God’s love and want to serve Him. Believe me, those are the hardest rejection letters to write.
So just because an agent or editor rejects your work doesn’t necessarily mean your work isn’t good. Many factors that go into an agent’s decision. Quality of work is a biggie – but not the only factor. We have to consider, for example, our connections and the current market. We have to ask, “Can we sell this?” If we cannot, we aren’t doing you a service to offer representation.
Here’s one of the most helpful thoughts I’ve ever seen on rejection and I apologize for the fact I don’t remember where I read it. But here it is in my own words:
Rejection helps you eliminate that opportunity/person/channel/pathway and frees you to focus on the opportunity/person/channel/pathway that is open to you and your ideas.
So if your dream agent/editor/publisher sends a rejection letter, take a little time to grieve. Then move on. Keep learning. Keep improving. Keep submitting. See what doors God opens for you.
How many books did you write before your work was accepted by an agent, editor, or publisher?
What encouragement can you share?
Tamela, Thank you for being so open and honest. We need to hear it. I was rejected three times in less than an hour at last year’s Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference. I expected rejection as part of the process, so when I saw my friend and mentor Lori Roeleveld we high-fived, she encouraged me, “Now you are 1 step closer to getting a contract.” I entered my book into a contest with the Writer to Writer pub board. I won a book contract. God is good. During the process, my book has been revised. I am blessed by the rejections.
Thank you, Tamela, for the encouragement. One of my friends had nine books rejected before she got a contract with an agent, and now she’s a New York Times bestselling author! Yay!
Patti Jo Moore
Thank you for sharing this, Tamela – – I’m still giggling over your description of an agent opening e-mails (although I do not think you are capable of an evil grin, LOL).
I like your thought on rejection – – eliminating something and then being free to focus on something else – – a great way to view it. 🙂
Have a wonderful day!
Michael Jordan said “I have failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed “
Tamela, I’m fond of saying that when writing medical articles (I had over 100 published before I retired) I was turned down more times than a Holiday Inn bedspread. So you’d think I’d be used to rejection as a novelist. Wrong. I wrote or rewrote four novels before getting that first contract. And looking back, I can see that none of them were ready for publication.
An editor friend of mine says that it’s the consensus among his colleagues that it takes at least three novels before we “get it.” Of course, some people get it right the first time, but they’re in the minority (and I think some of them stretch the truth).
Thanks for the encouragement.
Great article, and one with which I can truly identify. I started submitting without an agent back in the late 80’s and had so many rejections, I lost count, but they filled a file folder to overflowing. After you contracted me, Tamela, there were many more rejections from editors. Seven years ago in June the first break came. Sixteen full length novels since then with #17 in October plus numerous novellas have proven it pays to persevere. Look at each rejection as an opportunity to hone your skill and make the manuscript even better.
My encouragement is to plan, pray, persevere and have patience. Those four “P” words will keep you going.
Carrie Stuart Parks
Thank you, Tamela. I received a polite rejection from you, so feel connected to this topic. 🙂
Rejection is part of the creative artists life. I’m proud to claim a rejection for both my art AND my book on the same day. Rejection isn’t personal. It’s a challenge to do better. I grew up on horseback. Every time I’d get dumped (which was quite often,) my dad would yell “get back up there and ride that horse.”
Painful, yes, but dad knew if I didn’t get right back on, I’d always be afraid. So I rode the horses. And kept sending out my manuscript.
My first book–the one I worked on for almost ten years–was rejected by fourteen publishers. I set it aside and worked on book #2. That one got a “no” within five minutes of the email going out from my agent, and a “yes, we’re interested” in twenty-seven minutes. It went on to an auction between two major publishing houses, finagling in the Christys and winning a Carol. I went back and read book #1. It was AWEFUL!!!! Did a re-write and so far this year has finaled in several writing competitions.
Keep writing, but get better. Accept the challenge. Ride that horse.
Tamela, thanks for writing on this topic. I’m planning on attending the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference next week, and I’m already gearing up for the constructive criticism I’ll be receiving. I’m eager to learn from everyone.
One helpful tidbit from Sandra Byrd that’s altered my thinking about rejections is that rejection is not about me. The story didn’t fit what the agent was looking for, and this helps me to create emotional boundaries.
I have a folder in my email entitled “Risk Nothing Win Nothing.” It’s specifically for every rejection I receive. And I’m proud of it because it shows that I’m trying little by little.
I can so relate Barbara to being proud of your rejections, which does seem a little strange to most people! I thought I’d be so devastated when I received my first (second, tenth, I’ve lost count…) rejection but each time I’ve instead felt this sense of pride in the proof that I’ve tried and haven’t given up. Each one just fills me with more determination to see this through.
Sheri Dean Parmelee
Tamela, my Ph.D. dissertation went through five re-writes before the final document was cleared for publication. I felt that the final document was soooooo much better than the original, though I did shed some tears over the initial rejections.
Right now, my first 50 pages of Suddenly Single are in the Laube Agency – please feel free to not reject it! 🙂 My Sunday School class is praying that I will find a Christian agency to represent me, having successfully prayed me through grad school, qualifying exams, and the writing of my dissertation.
Thank you for the reminder that rejection should not be taken personally! I needed that!
I’m writing my fourth book and I don’t have an agent. That’s okay. I’m still learning,
Outside of writing books, I also write inspirational stories and devotionals. I submitted monthly to The Upper Room for 2 years before one of my devotionals was accepted by them. I just had a second one approved and am on the short list for 4 more. What kept me going is the fact that my other devotionals have been accepted 11 times for The Secret Place, another quarterly devotional magazine.
For me, the non response is the one that frustrates me the most. For those submissions that I’ve had to send by snail mail to a publisher, I include a post card that is pre-paid and the editor only has to check one of 3 boxes. At least then I don’t have to wonder if a response got lost in the mail.
Linda Riggs Mayfield
Once again we really agree on a topic! Most of the articles I’ve ever submitted were promptly accepted for publication, and the ones that weren’t still generated a personal refusal; so I think the non-answers about book proposals are the most difficult things to (not) receive. If you think of the equivalent to that post card for proposals submitted as email attachments, please let me know!
To one agent who didn’t respond at all, I sent a polite follow-up after six months, and didn’t receive a response to that, either. Was following up offensive to her? ‘Guess I’ll never know! To another who had already read several chapters and a proposal for the book as a judge, and was enthusiastic when she invited me to submit the whole proposal, then didn’t respond at all, I also followed up after six months, and she replied enthusiastically the very next day! Deciding how to deal with the silence feels like tiptoeing through a minefield! 😀
Exactly! When to follow-up and when not to is a dilemma.
Thanks again Tamela for a great post! You’re always so encouraging.
I’m still collecting rejections at the moment but it has been cool to see those changing from ‘the quality of your work isn’t good enough’ to ‘we love it but can’t find a place for it at the moment’. The journey toward publication really IS a journey and I have to say, I’m loving every bit of it. And having people like you encourage me along the way has just made it even better.
Angela K Couch
I’m a writer, not a mathematician…which I would have to be to keep track of how many rejections I’ve had. It’s been very interesting to watch them evolve from the form rejections to the personalized with advice, and then to where the editor really liked it, but not past the committee. But then the contracts came! 🙂 Rejection is great as long as we use it as a tool. Even form rejections. Get enough of those and most likely you should go back and try again. I’m grateful for them and how they have improved my writing!
Sheri Dean Parmelee
It was great reading everyone’s comments! Thanks for the encouragement folks, and for the superb posting, Tamela! We need to “trust in the Lord and lean not upon your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him and he will direct your paths.”
One of the nicest rejections I received was sent by you, Tamela. Your honesty and sincerity makes such notices palatable. And I agree with Linda and Christine, that it is the non-responses that are most frustrating. At ACFW last year, one agent showed so much enthusiasm for my work, that I floated out of the meeting. She had been a judge for a contest in which I had entered and won. She was familiar with the story, and straight away asked for a full proposal. I sent it, then waited four months to follow up. She responded to my follow-up promising she’d let me know within the week. That was over a year ago.
And I did get a little discouraged. For three seconds. I’ve got too much to do to waste valuable time bemoaning what has not happened.
Tamela Hancock Murray
I have really been blessed by everyone’s comments and sharing. Thank you all so much!