Monday, August 8, 2011

Six Tips for When Rejection Happens

Rejection happens. To everyone.
You interview for a job you’re perfect for only to find it went to the boss's nephew.
That dreamy guy you've been obsessing about starts dating your best friend.
The agent you're pinning your future hopes on turns you down.
The editor who asked for a full manuscript decides to pass.
Rejection happens. To everyone.

A writer needs to come to terms with fact as quickly as possible. It’s a matter of survival in this industry. I was in conversation with a well known writer, who is married to another well known writer. I mentioned a recent rejection. The response? Rejections don't stop when you get well known. They just get more humiliating.
Oh. Goody.
Have the six of us on Novel Matters suffered rejection?
Will you?

Here is a quick reference list to refer to when literary rejection rears its big, hairy, ugly face.

1) Repeat this mantra: It isn't personal.
Sure, it feels personal. Rejection stings, sometimes hurts a great deal. You spend countless hours, days, weeks, years crafting a novel, and to have someone read it and say no hurts. But agent or editor said no to the project, they did not reject you as a person. Agents and editors derive no joy from knowing the people they say no to feel rejected and hurt. The reasons for saying no to a project are legion: The economy, the agent’s present workload, a shift in the kinds of books the house is looking for, personal taste, resources available, a dynamic market always in flux. Notice how none of these reasons are aimed at you and me - the writers?

2) It doesn't mean you are a bad writer
Not all rejections are created equal. If you are getting feedback from editors and agents who praise your work, yet are still rejecting it, try to understand that this industry is all about two things: Fit and timing. Your book could be fantastic, but that doesn't mean that every publisher is the right fit for your book. There are many reasons why a good book isn't a fit for a specific publisher, or agent. Agents and editors ensure they take on projects they are passionate about. They want the opportunity to go to bat for a book they love. It needs to be the whole meal deal in order for them to throw themselves into the fray to represent it. And remember, an editor is one voice in a publishing house. An editor might LOVE you and your work, but still be unable to sell it to the committee.

3) This is no time to panic
The way you handle today's rejection will play a part in tomorrows acceptance. If you lash out in an angry letter or blog post because you feel certain the agent, editor, or publisher will benefit from a piece of your mind, your actions will be remembered. Not in a good way. That negative impression will be difficult, maybe even impossible to overcome. You are entitled to your feelings, but keep your choice words and opinions to your most private places. Kick some boxes, scream into a paper bag - then get a hold of yourself as soon as possible.

4) Get support
Still feel too depressed to get out of bed even after you've kicked a box and screamed into a paper bag? Time to enlist some support from your inner circle. The small, close group of people in your life who understand and care about you. The people who won't go blabbing about how badly you handled being rejected.

5) Have a plan B, C, D, E, F and G.
Most writers have a dream team - a list of the industry professionals they would sell their little brother for a chance to work with. The only problem with these lists is they often include the names of industry pros who are also on everyone else's list. But, your book may not be a fit for that dream agent – but is for another, equally fantastic agent. It pays to create an open and flexible plan when submitting to agents and editors. The person you think would be best, may not be the best fit for you and your work.

6) Have a concrete plan for improving as a writer.
The best writers are the ones who understand the road of craft is never ending. But improving as a writer happens by taking specific, purposeful steps. I understood my need to improve most strongly after I became published. At the moment, I'm reading one book on literature as art, and another on reading with purpose. I'm studying deeply and at length. Rejection happens, but I can buoy myself with the knowledge that I am engaged in concrete steps to improve as a writer. That my dedication to my craft will, in time, pay off. As long as I hang on.

Do you have a plan for dealing with the sting of rejection? Felt the power of an editor's furious red pen? Dish!


Wendy Paine Miller said...

All excellent points. I think sometimes people forget about #5 & #6 and I think those are two of the most important.
~ Wendy

Anonymous said...

Well I've only submitted once and yes, I was rejected, but I wasn't off-put by it. As a person who desires to write non-romance historical, I already know I'm writing for a very small market that publishers are unwilling to touch.

But based on that experience my strategy was 1) go on and write the next book and 2) come back to the one I submitted and go over with it a fine-tooth comb, and make sure the characters are as strong and distinct as I can make them. Since the world of publishing is extremely heavily skewed toward romance, the burden of proof rests on me to create characters so powerful that the potential buyer forgets about romance and involves themselves in my story.

Until then, I'm perfectly content to sit back and keep practicing. Manuscript after manuscript.

BK Jackson

Beth K. Vogt said...

This is my first time visiting your blog--but it won't be my last!
I love practical tips and you have loads of them for dealing with rejection. Like Wendy (waves to Wendy!) I can overlook #5 and #6. Especially #6.
I'd add a #7: Go ahead and sulk--but put a time limit on it, say 48 hours. And then get back to work.Maybe work on your #5 and 6.

Bonnie Grove said...

Wendy: I agree. Steps 5 and 6 are about maturity and being able to last in this industry long term. When I speak to writers, I begin by saying, "Publishing is a difficult industry to break into. It's even harder to stay in once you've been published."

Writers cannot believe they will improve simply by writing more of the same. They need to study, take courses, read meaty books on writing (not these flash in the pan books that promise to teach you how to write a bestseller without even trying).

Writers also need to have a strong grasp of how the industry works in general. And then to keep on top of things as this is an industry that is as unpredictable as creativity itself.

Bonnie Grove said...

BK: Always good to hear from you. It seems to me that you have a strong sense of who you are as a writer and I think this will only serve you well as you go into the future. Who knows? Maybe you will be the one who creates the new craze for historical fiction sans the sappy romance! I hope so!

Bonnie Grove said...

Beth: Wonderful to have you here. Welcome!

A time limit is a good idea. And two days to feel bad is about all a writer can afford. Great suggestion.

Rejection can hit a writer in different ways at different times, too. Having a plan in place will ease the sting and get the writer back to work.

Thanks for joining us! We hope to hear from you lots!

Anonymous said...

I've taken the "rejection" word right out of it. I'm just a wee bit too sensitive for that. I call them "no thank you" letters/emails/etc. It's a softer blow to my heart that way :).

Can I use this moment to give a "shout out" to a few agents? Thanks. I've been querying a whole bunch of agents. I have to say Steve Laube and Jonathan Clemins were the kindest in their "no thank you" letters. They were both incredibly encouraging to me, urging me to keep going and put in more work. THAT makes me want to work with them even more!

Bonnie Grove said...

Susie: That's a good attitude! And thanks for sharing your stories. It's not easy to admit a rejection, but we all get them.
And yes, both Steve and Jonathan are great guys who love books and writers. :)

Steve G said...

Just read Kathryn Stockett's answer:
Become totally obsessed with your book, and lie about what you're doing if you have to. Like they say in Galaxy Quest: Never give up; never surrender. (or something like that)

word verification: submiciv - a Biblical mandate for... ummm never mind.

Cassy said...

Thank you for sharing those brilliant ideas. very helpful.

Cassy from Guitar Made Easy

terribonin said...

Could you offer us a list of books to read for the person who would like to improve as a writer? I am always looking for a new one.

Marji Laine - Faith Driven Fiction said...

Thanks so much for the empathy and encouragement. It really helps to know that the awful "R-word" happens to the best of writers. Your suggestions confirm I'm on the right track!

The RambleInn said...

Thank you for posting this! It was very timely as a new "R" word just came in. It helps with perspective greatly.

Bonnie Grove said...

Cassy: So glad you found them helpful.

Terribonin: You've just suggested a great topic for one of our roundtable discussions (we do one once a month). I'm certain that each of us would offer different lists of books that have helped us over the years.

Here is a (very) short list of books I've found useful:
The Anatomy of Story by John Truby
Unless it Moves the Human Heart by Roger Rosenblatt

Also, Patti Hill is doing an ongoing series on Ann Lamott's book Bird by Bird (search the blog for these posts) that has been incredibly helpful for all of us.

Bonnie Grove said...

Marji: I'm so glad to hear you are feeling encouraged. Publishing is a difficult business, and much of what we need to do as writers is to remain on track and keep going. Persistence is so key!

Dee: Hang in there, and keep polishing! I recently posted an article by Katherine Stockett where she talked about being turned down by 60 agents before she finally got one who sold THE HELP to Amy Einhorn. That is serious persistence, and I know I'm so glad she kept at it! (you can read the article here:

Anonymous said...

I'm convinced that if a door won't open, it's the wrong one for me to go through. There are always other doors. Flexibility is critical in every endeavor, and the only one who can ultimately reject your work is yourself. Until you do, there's always another avenue to explore.