QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, June 29, 2009

Handling Rejection at Arm's Length

Rejection is a part of life. Sad but true. Regardless of your profession or abilities, you will come face to face with rejection and it's rarely a pleasant experience.  

Writers have it pretty bad when it comes to rejection for two reasons: 1) They are trying to sell a product that is a part of themselves--something they care about that's personal, and 2) The rejection comes in writing.  

The best advice I can give is to not take it personally. Truly, that rejection is not aimed at the writer in a spiteful or even personal way. Often, it is a form letter sent to hundreds and sometimes thousands of other writers who have queried that agent or editor.  

On several occasions, I've received a personal message from a fellow writer ranting about how mean an agent was about his/her work in a rejection letter.  When I asked the author if I could see the letter (because I've never seen a mean rejection yet and was intrigued) I discovered it was nothing more than a typical form rejection--well crafted to appear personal, but not personalized at all.  The writer was creating a slight in his/her mind that didn't exist. In one case, I was able to produce the exact same letter with identical wording that I had received in response to my own submission to that agent months earlier. 

Because I'm only one person with one person's limited experience, I want to share some other writers' views on handling rejections.  

Jeremiah Tolbert is a science fiction writer and editor for Escape Pod. I love his article, An Editor's Perspective on Rejection (Click on title to read). Mr. Tolbert addresses his approach to rejection as both a writer and an editor.  His take?  It's not personal and don't expect a rejection to be writing advice. 

Satire author Simon Haynes wrote an article on this subject called, Rejection of the Literary Kind, which should be required reading for unpublished writers seeking representation.  

Mr Haynes proposes that the road to publication can be pictured something like this:   

Mr. Haynes also addresses a recurring theme in my conversations with writer. Often, I am asked why an agent doesn't tell a writer what is wrong with the work. I know of several agents who used to do that, but had such negative responses from a few writers, they've stopped giving feedback on anything but fulls and even then, they are careful because some writers fire angry responses back. I find it hard to believe, but there are agents who have received death threats because of rejections. Sickening.  

On this subject, Mr. Haynes writes:

Of course, agents who gave honest feedback would be swamped by a tsunami of vitriol from aggrieved and hurting writers, which is why they don't do this. 

Literary agent Nathan Bransford is one of my favorite bloggers when it comes to helping a writer handle the hardships of the road to publication.  He addresses how to respond to rejections in his blog post, About Those Follow-Up Questions After a Rejection...

Mr. Bransford explains why he gives form rejections and doesn't respond to questions regarding his rejections:

I know. My standard query rejection letters are just as ambiguous and unhelpful as every other agent's (except that if you personalize your letter to me I'll personalize mine back). I know you're left hanging, that you'd like some leads, some more info... anything more than what I'm able to give you.

But I'm sorry -- my response is my response. That's it. I get 6,000-7,000 queries a year. I can't provide tips or referrals or answer further questions to even a small portion of these, or else I'd do nothing but answer queries and query questions. I have to delete follow-up questions so I can move on with my day. I mean, I can't even respond to say I'm not responding, simply because that alone would be such a huge time suck. So I just delete them.
I guess my point is this: Yes, it's difficult for a writer to be told that the novel/book/story she has delved into her heart to produce is not right for an agent's list. Even so, a writer must learn how to deal with this rejection and use it in a positive way, not take it as a personal affront. Publishing is a business. A hard one. As the old saying goes: "The only thing all published authors have in common is that the didn't give up."  

One of my books is in submission with publishers. Realistically, I will receive rejections (my agent will be receiving them as well. See? Agents get rejection letters too). How will I handle it?  The same way I handled agent rejection letters. I understand that it is not me the editor will be rejecting, but my book. Not all my books--just this one. And I've got a lot more books in me.  

I believe that in order to make it, all writers, new or established, must believe in themselves and their talent. 

Hold those rejections at arm's length and don't let them close to your heart.  

Do you have a technique/trick/tip for handling rejection? I'd love to hear about it in the comments.  

Have a beautiful week,


Mary Lindsey writes paranormal fiction for teens and adults. Prior to attending University of Houston Law school, she received a B.A. in English Literature with a minor in Drama. Mary is represented by Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Mary can also be found on her website or blog.


Mandy said...

Thanks for a great post Mary! Rejection is the toughest part of writing and putting distance between your emotions and the process is hard. It always helps to know that everyone is in the same boat and that a form rejections isn't a letter stating "you suck; you should just give up now". It's just business. But, it does get easier the longer you do it ;)

Rebecca Knight said...

Thanks for this, ML! The pyramid always cracks me up because it's so true, but only obvious once you see it spelled out.

I used to be one of those "oh, hey, this is personalized" people, until I read the comments in QueryTracker for agents and realized Yes, they are form letters.

Great post! We do have to believe in ourselves, and then find others who believe in us enough to rip our work a new one when we need it.

Teh Awe-Some Sauce said...

How do I rejection? REVENGE QUERY!!! There are over 200 agents on query tracker in my genre. I just pick one I think might be interested in my work and send them a note. It's like rebating the hook after the fish steal your worm.

You're never going to catch the big one if you don't have a pole in the water!

Emily C. said...

Like you said, it's purely business. I like it when agents post their reasons for rejecting voriaus queries on their blog. (The jueries remain anonymous of course.) But you can go down the list and see: This one is a genre I don't represent, this one is close but I already have something similar, etc... It makes the agent seem much more relatable.
As for handling rejection myself, I find that my work needs to go to someone who loves it. If that agent isn't you, then I don't want you to have it.


Stina Lindenblatt said...

After 8 years of being a pharmaceutical sales rep, I've been rejected in many ways to my face. That really toughens you up. ;)

What really helps is that my two teen beta readers loved the book that is out with agents. Even though it might never be published, it nice to have that warm fuzzy feeling to get me through the rejections. ;)

Bert Johnston said...

Thanks for a thoughtful and helpful blog on a subject that most of us who write need help with.
The link to Hal Spacejock's "Rejection of the Literary Kind" was a bonus. He has a host of other useful articles, also just a click away.

Mary Lindsey said...

Thanks for the comments. You guys are the best.

I agree, Bert--Hal Spacejock's blog is full of fantastic information.

raballard said...

I have rejection of my query letter down to a science. Lately I have discontinued adding the query to my snail-mail queries, I add my own form rejection letter and ask the agents to sign it and return the letter in 6-8 weeks. I randomly chose a few agents that I ask to ignore my form rejection letter altogether. Then there are the few chosen agents that I add my fantastic form partial manuscript form letter. I usually ask those chosen agents to wait 4-8 months before they return my rejection form, which i then frame and use it for target practice.

I am working on a system that will allow me to send pre-signed form rejection letters through my email.

Isn't modern technology wonderful?

christinefonseca said...

Great advice Mary!

David said...

I find that whining helps.

Well, it helps me. It's probably not helpful to those around me.

Alyssa Kirk @ Teens Read and Write said...

I've read this blog for a while and while I have never been brave enough to comment, I think this post is extremely worthwhile. Here's how I deal with...well, first of all, in our house we call them 'No Thank You's' because that's what they are. Rejection sounds like the agent is saying "You suck! Your writing isn't good enough for the bathroom wall!" and that may be what we hear but not what they're saying.
Second, I never take it personally. I'm disappointed but these agents don't know me. This is a business and a subjective one. I don't like every book out there and my novel isn't going to be for everyone. I just have to be persistant enough to get to the right one.
Third, I accept critism and suggestions and look at making changes.
Fourth, I've got a great support system - my family.
And, FYI, when I get a personalized No Thank You (or it seems like one) I always send a 'Thanks for considering my work' back to them. Whether the agent cares or not I don't know but I figure they did consider it, I'm grateful for their time and it's the polite thing to do.
I understand the frustration of not getting published, but not the animosity toward agents for turning you down.
You inspired me to put a post about this on my own writing blog http://demonicattractions.blogspot.com/ where I mentioned you and your post. I think it's a great reminder for writers to take a step back from the process. Again, thanks, and good luck with Soul Purpose. Paranormal fiction is my favorite and it looks like something I'd love to read!
Okay, I got a bit wordy here. I don't think comments are supposed to be this long. I'm new, forgive me!

Stephanie, PQW said...

What a timely post. I recently received a 'no thank you', as I prefer to think of them (easier to swallow that way). I have to say that it was the nicest one I've ever gotten. The agent went the extra mile and told me exactly why he wasn't taking it. What a gift! Now I know what the ms needs.

I think if I allowed anger or disappointment cloud my reason, I would never have the oportunity to make my ms the best that it can be.

Alyssa Kirk @ Teens Read and Write said...

Stephanie, I completely agree! Dwelling on the negative just slows you down and sabotages your writing. Great that you had such a generous agent and you made the experience a positive one.

Ren said...

I've tried to follow the "Tao of Pooh" mindset of accepting rejection the same way as I would were I already accepted. Just, calm and tranquil, without pain or despair.

Additionally, I used to be a live musician - and handling that kind of real time acceptance or rejection is much more brutal; a polite - if rarely personalized - "you're not quite what I'm looking for" is what it is. I realize that they're not condemning me or my work, they're simply not choosing it.

Why, then, should I be offended?