Rejections Aren’t That Scary

I have had some conversations with various WordServe authors about rejections over the past few weeks. They are so hard to receive, especially for agents who are rooting for you and your writing. We want publishers to accept your work just as much as you do!

I have shared my own rejections online before, and it is still humbling. Who likes to share with other writers the “no’s” that they have received? However, I have found that writers are often grateful to hear the personal responses. It helps to frame the context of rejections–no, they aren’t fun for anyone involved; however, they don’t come from mean agents or editors (well, maybe some of them are mean, but, as a rule, most of them don’t kick puppies during their free time).

When I was writing and receiving rejections, I usually had anywhere from three to five in my inbox per week. I was writing short stories, so the turn around was a lot quicker. Initially, they were difficult to read, but eventually, I became a bit desensitized to the process. I still cared about what the editors had to say, of course, but the rejections became a part of the job and not so much something to take personally.

Many of the rejections I received were humorous:

Thanks for sending your story along. The fiction department was torn on it. One of our editors is a big fan of mustard in fiction, but personally, I can’t stand dark chocolate and mint Milky Ways. It was a close call, but we’re going to pass on this one. Thanks for your patience, and please think of us again in the future.

Often, I was encouraged to send more writing:

I’ve read your story a half-dozen times now, and while there’s a lot to like here, it didn’t end up fitting with the issue I’m putting together. That said, I enjoy your sense of humor and your writing, and I hope you’ll send me something else to read soon.

And a lot of my writing received more than one glance:

Although I will not be accepting this submission, it received repeated attention well beyond a first reading.  I encourage you to submit again.

Finally, often my writing received even a first glance because of the writing communities in which I was involved. Although I was rejected, because of my submissions, blog posts, and comments on writing networking sites, my name became known enough for people to read my work, whether or not they accepted it.

I’ve read and enjoyed your pieces in other journals so did give your story a quick read anyway.

And, honestly, in the publishing world—whether literary or otherwise—getting someone to look at your writing can be considered, to utilize a lunar reference, one giant leap for mankind!

But, it is still important to know your market. Do your homework before submitting. Read books that the agent or editor has previously represented. Be able to clearly communicate how your story or book would fit into their publishing world.

Also, familiarize yourself with submission requirements. In a query, I want to see a strong query letter as well as the first ten pages of the manuscript in the email. I do not open attachments that are sent over in queries. If I ask for a partial, that means I want to see 50 pages of the manuscript. A full means I want to receive the whole manuscript. Both the partial and the full can be sent via email attachment.

Taking the time to familiarize yourself with the market in which you are interested, writing awesome stories, and researching, researching, researching, will allow you to feel confident with the material that you submit. When you do send your work out and receive your first rejection (because you will), now you can realize that they aren’t quite as scary as you initially perceived, and you can keep submitting your work.

But, again, please do your homework. You will keep getting rejections if you are only antagonistic toward the responses that you receive.

Anyone care to share some not-so-scary rejection letter stories?

11 Replies to “Rejections Aren’t That Scary”

  1. Great article, Sarah. Here’s a couple one-liners I’ve received that weren’t so scary. The first one encouraged me. The second one caused me to rethink my story and resulted in a new character that was a better fit.
    ‘You write like Gilbert Morris, but we have to pass.’
    “I cannot accept your proposal for a historical series. You have a slave in the story.’

    Then there was the response I got from a ‘publisher’ I found in a Christian literary magazine years ago when I was first starting out that turned out to be a scam and the owners went to jail. This was not a rejection, but an acceptance.
    ‘Just send us $7000 and we will publish your book. What? You don’t have that kind of money? You didn’t know you had to pay to be published with us? Well, borrow the money from the bank or a relative.’
    That was scary. Of course I swiftly declined. Good thing I did.

    1. Wow, yes, I am so glad that you chose to not pay them $7000. Not good! True, some self-publishing companies are not scam, but you do have to be careful and do your research whenever you are going to pay someone for work (just like you would research a good auto mechanic for your car).

      Also, thanks for sharing your rejections–it’s always nice to hear that you write like Gilbert Morris!

  2. Rejections are humbling, and they cause me to take stock of my writing, my goals, and my marketing. If it’s a rejection with no reply at all to a query, I just roll on. What else can I do? If it’s a rejection that affirms my writing and my proposal, but doesn’t feel I’m a good fit, I try to read between the lines to discern if it’s really my writing. If it’s a rejection after an agent has seen my whole manuscript, it’s heartbreaking and sends me into weeks of contemplation, introspection, and reassessment. It’s encouraging and helpful at that time to have kind comments and feedback that lets me know I’m at least on the right track (Thanks for that, Sarah).

    I think my favorite rejection was when an agent told me to cease and desist, just to give up on my novel, because I was competition for his client who had written a similar story. At first I was devastated, but than I realized he thought I was a threat. That propelled me to move forward.

    Rejection really stretches me as a writer. I try to learn from each rejection and adjust, pausing to assess carefully before I move forward. I think rejection produces the inner growth that makes a person strong enough for the publishing process, when and if it ever occurs. At least, that’s what I’m hoping. 🙂

    1. Melinda,

      The funny thing is that I thought of you as I was writing this–a few other people as well, but they were all clients. So, see, even giving rejections to potential clients is hard–it’s not like I just reject and forget about people. I remember their stories, and if I have asked them to work through edits, that makes it even more difficult.

      Thanks so much for sharing your experiences.

      1. I wondered about that. It came at the right time, and I felt like it was written just for me. Of course, that wasn’t the case, but your post was encouraging to read right now. Thanks, Sarah, for all you have taught me in our interactions with one another. You’ve made me a better writer.

  3. Great post Sarah. My favorite rejection came for my first manuscript, Worms in My Tea, about 3 months after it was published and had hit the CBA bestseller list:) Oh, that was fun to respond to!

  4. Long before I was published, one of my book proposals came back with a rejection and a personal note — from the entire publications committee! I don’t remember the exact words, but the essence was, “The committee encourages you to keep writing. You have a good feel for the job.”

    Although it came with a rejection, that one little bit of encouragement carried me forward and gave me the motivation to keep trying!

  5. I’ve sent out about a dozen queries over the last year for two different manuscripts. One of the manuscripts I was 99.9% sure it would receive rejections. From what I hear it’s hard for a write to find representation for Biblical romance. Out of the five queries I sent, I received two rejection letters, and I Snoopy Danced! In the past when I sent a query for different story 9/10, I received nothing. So I was excited to get those rejection letters, at least I knew my letter was read.

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