It’s bound to happen at some time or another. Even those seemingly blessed authors – the ones who found agents and landed deals in the time it took you to pour another cup of coffee and refresh Twitter – have received, or will receive, a rejection letter at one point or another.
You’ve undoubtedly heard it before – want to be a published author? Develop a thick skin. But no matter how Hobbit-like your epidermis, rejection stings like an elven blade. Don’t feel bad about feeling bad about it. What you can do is realize you’ve just taken another step forward in your writing career (because you have, whether it feels like it or not). Take what you can from the dreaded R, and move on.
The Query Rejection
Not all query rejections are created equally. If your concept, your characters, your prose, something sparks interest in an agent, but not enough for him/her to make an offer, you may receive a personalized query rejection. Great! Should you rush to rewrite your query and/or novel? No! Put on the brakes for a second.
Please note that I’m not talking about an R&R – that’s later down the page. But if you query an agent and get something other than a form rejection, consider a few things carefully before you tear apart your idea and start from scratch.
- What exactly did your query contain? Every agent has different submission guidelines – aside from the blurb, did you submit a few pages? Chapters? How many? A synopsis? Take note of what, exactly, the agent was reviewing that formed their perception of your work.
- Can you pinpoint what the agent had an issue with? Was it the voice? (An issue with the pages.) Was it the concept? (An issue with the blurb.) Was it the plot? (An issue with the synopsis.)
- Do you agree with the agent’s feedback? It’s okay if you don’t – although it’s probably a good idea to share that feedback with your critique group and ask them if, truthfully, they think the agent has pinpointed a serious flaw.
And if you do get the good old form R, remember – it might very well have nothing to do with the quality of your writing or concept. Seriously, that’s not just something writers mumble to themselves while rocking back and forth in the fetal position and killing off another pint of Chubby Hubby. Agents aren’t magical publishing soothsayers who offer representation for every single salable idea that graces their inbox. They’re people who read books and have preferences for certain genres, just like the rest of us. An agent may intentionally reject a query for a novel they know may very well be on the shelves one day, because it’s just not a story they’re interested in.
What I’m saying, in the immortal words of Doug Adams, is Don’t Panic. A few query rejections does not mean your novel is utter garbage. Now, if you get to the point where you’ve accumulated a few dozen form Rs and no partial/full requests, it might be time to examine your query letter and sample pages.
The Sub Rejection
After the query-go-round, editor rejections are simultaneously easier and harder to deal with. Easier because your agent may act as a median, helping you examine the rejection and figure out where to go from here. Harder because now a lot of the rejections are going to be more specific, and possibly, conflicting.
One editor may love the concept but not the characters. Another may swoon over your MC but feel eh about your prose. A third says the whole book is gold but the market is “oversaturated” with that particular genre right now. So…now what?
Before you make any changes, listen to your gut. Like agents, editors are human beings with particular tastes. Just because one says a certain element of your book is a serious flaw doesn’t mean all editors – and readers – will agree. When my first novel went out on submission (and never sold), the feedback varied. One said that the main character’s stepmother was more interesting than the main character herself. I understood the criticism (the stepmother was pretty quirky) but I felt like that was just an opinion, and not necessarily something that warranted a rewrite.
But when another editor said a certain plot point felt “serendipitous,” that raised a red flag. You know that feeling you get, when someone says something you’ve known all along is true but you haven’t allowed yourself to actually think it yet? That was it. I knew, immediately, that this particular editor had found a flaw, and my book would undoubtedly improve if I addressed it.
Rest and relaxation. No, seriously – no irony here. If you get a “revise and resubmit” from an agent or editor, your initial reaction might be to get it done NOW and FAST because OH MY GOD INTEREST!
Here’s the deal. When you do sign with an agent, and when you do get a publishing deal, you’re going to be revising. There are always edits. So if an agent or editor asks you to revise and then submit your novel again – rather than just signing you, then doing revisions – chances are it’s because those revisions are hefty.
Do not rush. Rest. Relax. The real R&R. Your instinct might be to strike while the iron’s hot, but the iron will always be hot. The agent/editor isn’t going to forget about you. However, they will quirk an eyebrow if they send you a three page revision letter and you resubmit your “revised” novel a week later. Do not rush. Rest. Relax.
Take some time to think about their suggestions. Do you like them? Do you agree that they will improve your story? If you do, and you feel like this agent/editor is The One For You, then give the revision the time and attention it deserves.