Rejection – why it shouldn’t be followed by dejection

I’m busy writing book3 but in the meantime, I sending book1 out into the world. I’ve polished my manuscript, I’ve hand-crafted my cover letter and honed my one-page synopsis. My critique partners, beta readers, expert publishing professionals, even the odd agent here and there have given me excellent feedback.

So, you think, why haven’t I got  99-book deal?

Several things, actually…
– numbers: there are an awful lot of people out there nourishing, cherishing and polishing their oeuvre. Publishing gurus (e.g. How Publishing Really Works) say many are poorly presented, badly written, punctuated, have a poor plot, implausible characters. Of those which are perfect on those counts, there are still quite a lot competing with my beautiful book;

– agents’ lists: many agents have a full list of clients, so obviously spend 98% of their work time looking after them (as you would hope to be). Sure, they all keep a weather eye out for The Next Big Thing. I mean, who wants to miss the next Harry Potter? Or Lee Child? But when that eye droops with tiredness at a 32 hour day, then perhaps we can understand;

– publishers’ lists: some do a wide spread of book types, others narrower, so your well-written, innovative and exciting book may not fit in with the rest of their catalogue.  They may also have full schedules for a good period in the future. And they have the same problem with the 5,000 manuscripts they have to read each week.

But I think the big one is failure to resonate, also known as ‘I didn’t love it enough.’ As a wannabe author, it’s such a teeth-gnashingly irritating answer and something entirely out of your control. But set aside the anger and despair, have a think about it.

Picture yourself in your favourite bookshop. You have 30 minutes before the other half comes back from selecting your Christmas present. You browse the best-sellers, the tables, the 3-for-2, the new stuff, the ‘We recommend’ books, you look to see if your favourite author has brought another one out. But how do you choose what to buy? You read the blurb, you admire the cover, you read the first page or so, then you decide. Why? Because it calls you, it has a certain something that pulls you to it, that resonates. So I often get to the cash desk with a thriller, a historical, a fantasy adventure  and the Booker Prize finalist. No logical pattern, just what attracts me.

So despite your beautiful oeuvre and perfect package (if you see what I mean), an agent or publisher may not ‘get’ your book. A very difficult thing to accept, but something writers need to swallow when submitting and reacting to rejections.

I was given a hard piece of advice. When you get a rejection, get another submission out the same day. If your book really is ready for market and your package so good, it should only take a few tweaks. This takes a bit of the sting out and you feel more in control of events. Another writer friend who has several books published says to submit widely (not to the agent not taking your genre, obviously!). You just never know who your idea is going to resonate with.

And lastly, all writers get rejections.  Don’t take it too seriously, but here are some famous ones. You’re not alone. It’s never easy, even for the best writers.

13 comments to Rejection – why it shouldn’t be followed by dejection

  • Great post, Alison. I think your point about failure to resonate is absolutely spot on. It’s very much a matter of personal taste, because an agent and an editor an indeed the whole editorial team have to really love a book in order to see it through the publishing process successfully. Which is why many books that are very well published have already seen plenty of rejections. And chances are, if someone had taken it onto their list, but not loved it, it wouldn’t have been published so well.
    Good luck racking up your rejections and fingers crossed for your book finding ‘the one’! xxx

  • Alison

    Thanks, Claire, for your wise comment as well as good wishes.

    Rejection is such a gutty business. Deep-down, it triggers our fight-or-flight response, so many people rant or give up. This is natural and I’m not immune.

    But we’ve come a long way from the Stone Age and should engage our evolved brains and our ability to view things strategically.

    And yes, I’m determined to find ‘the one’.

  • Rejection is part of the pain/pleasure of the pursuit of publication. We can’t avoid it if we want mainstream publishing.

    You make some great points about the life of the editor and smart writers get it. There’s a huge pool of wannabes out there and not all of those who make it through are the best writers. No, they are the toughest ones, the ones with thick skins who can turn rejection from dejection back to determination. And learn a bit along the way.

    It’s always good to be reminded that 98% of great writers are rejected. It’s part and parcel of all parts of life, but especially writers, artists and lovers.

    If you don’t want rejection then don’t put yourself out there!!

  • Alison
    So much of what you have said in your post has been my experience too.

    I’ve tried for years to second guess the market but the market doesn’t know what it wants, until it arrives.

    I’ve had agents in the past try to guide me to write on certain subject matters or urging me to write more like this person or that, but in the end you can only be you.

    So I maintain, that one is simply compelled to write well enough in order to convince agents and editors of the giddy excitement waiting for them when they read one’s book, that will reveal to them the compelling beauty of statistical data retrieval. (Do you think I should pitch that one?)

    Meanwhile, great to read your thoughts on this.

  • Alison

    Thanks, jactherat and Nan, for your thoughtful comments.

    I think persistence and determination are two very valuable qualities in an aspiring writer. We’ll definitely need them when we do get published to market and sell our books.

  • Liz Harris

    An excellent post, Alison. Thank you for it.

    In a market like the publishing market today, where agents/publishers are looking for reasons to reject an oeuvre, the author just has to grit his/her teeth, carry on submitting and continue to write.

    If he/she does so, one lucky day – and luck is the operative word – an acceptance will arrive in the inbox. It’s a matter of luck if your ms lands on the desk of an agent/publisher who is looking for just that thing and who, as you said, ‘gets’ your work.

    Liz X

  • Alison

    Thanks, Liz. Interestingly, one person ‘in another place’ said her reaction to rejection was to stick another self-published work up on Amazon.

    Perhaps this is do-able if you are a multi-published author with an established ‘brand’ and have a little store of writing in a drawer.

    Something I could perhaps post about in the future… 😉

  • Nicola Morgan

    All true, Alison. And I know very well how hard and well you work!

    Nan – my agent would never advise me to write on certain subjects or write more like someone or other – sometimes I’ve asked her to tell me, but she won’t! I don’t think agents should, really. That’s my personal opinion.

  • Alison

    I agree, Nicola. Whilst we have to put ourselves in other characters’ shoes so we can see their motivation and their take on things, I coouldn’t write a whole book like that!

    Thank you for your kind words! You’ll be on my ‘free copies’ list when I get published!

  • Encouraging words, Alison. Thing that frustrates me more than anything is when you get two agents saying the exact opposite to one another about characterisation, plot etc. Both are professional and reputable. Which one do you go with?

    I think you always have to use your own instinct, which includes having the courage of your own convictions.

    I’m rooting for ya!

  • Alison

    Thanks, Denise, for your good wishes.

    Never an easy choice to decide between two authoratative pieces of advice. More on how I dealt with this dilemma here:

  • Oh yes, Alison, I’ve had that one too. I didn’t love it enough. It’s almost worse than if they said I hated it. But we keep plugging away because we love it, don’t we.
    It will be worth it one day. And think how fantastic it will feel when we get the feedback. I did love it enough!

  • Alison

    Della, I take heart from what my newest beta reader said:
    and I posted her further thoughts in the comments.

    And yes, when that day comes, whether it’s by telephone, letter or email, it will be a wonderful vindication.