Rejection is rough, but your attitude doesn’t need to be.
Our goal as a company, first and foremost, is making sure that authors succeed, and sometimes that means that they won’t be publishing with us because we know we can’t do their work justice. In our final post for our publishing series, we want to talk about how to take rejection and what things you shouldn’t do when you get a no.
They rejected ME! And my WONDERFUL, GROUND-BREAKING WORK! What’s WRONG with them?!?!?
Stop right now.
If you decide that going with a publisher (whether Big 5 or a small press) is right for you, rejection is part of the game. You cannot take a rejection personally.
- JK Rowling was rejected twelve times for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
- Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) was rejected twenty-seven times for Green Eggs and Ham.
- Margaret Mitchell was rejected thirty-eight times for Gone with the Wind.
These books are some of the most popular books ever published—and yet publishers and literary agents rejected them. Rejection can happen for lots of reasons. Getting upset is just a waste of your time and a sign that you might be difficult to work with. Reaching out to the publisher or agent who rejected you with a less than pleasant response is career suicide.
But I’m upset! Can’t I let the agent know I’m upset? The publisher owes me an explanation for why they rejected me!
No. No one owes you a thing. As a small press, we get dozens of submissions per quarter. Larger literary agents get hundreds, maybe even thousands. There simply isn’t enough time to give everyone personal treatment. Does this mean the agent may have “gotten it wrong”? Absolutely. Should you be indignant about it? No.
Here are some examples of what NOT to do when you receive a rejection:
We get many of our submissions from Twitter pitch events, with some from our writing group website, Scribophile. If we approach you and ask you for a submission (Twitter) or are active in the community where you talk about writing (both), please do not vilify on a public forum those who rejected you because you’re upset your word-baby has been told no. Not only will it make you look less desirable for future agents or editors, it will make publishers less willing to give you a second chance.
After taking hours to review a submission and provide editing notes, we had an author complain on a public forum about how “we didn’t understand his work.” No, we understood it fine—and it wasn’t commercial as written.
As professionals, we’ve seen a lot of works cross our desks, some being fantastic and some being not so fantastic. And when a publisher or agent takes the time to tell you what they found that doesn’t work in your manuscript and also lets you know how they think you can improve it, don’t take it as an insult to your creative genius. Take it as a publisher or agent taking time out of their busy day to help an author they think can succeed in the future, whether it’s with or without them.
Send a snarky reply
We received a submission that, after reading a few chapters, was obviously a first draft. It was soon after a NaNoWriMo event, and hey, we’re all learning together. We asked the author for some changes, and to resubmit. The author refused, and even admitted that he killed off a bunch of characters just to avoid naming them.
You may think your response is good, or even polite. It probably isn’t. In this example, the author showed us that he:
- Was lazy (the whole killing to avoid names thing compounded with the obvious lack of basic editing)
- Was not a team player (instead of thanking us for the feedback, he basically told us his work was good enough and didn’t need any work… Sorry, EVERY piece needs edits)
As a rule of thumb, don’t send any response to a rejection that isn’t a “thank you” for the reader’s time. Asking a question (what could I improve on? Do you have any feedback for me?) is usually fine, provided there wasn’t already feedback provided in the rejection. If we’ve already taken the time to give you information, be happy you got it, and move on.
Send a venomous reply
This is the worst option that you can go with, full stop. This kind of response will you get you automatically blacklisted from our company, and we will refuse to work with you in the future and perhaps be not so nice upon another submission telling you no. No doubt, other companies employ a similar policy.
As authors ourselves, we know how difficult it is to hear that someone doesn’t really like your work and then, on top of that, criticize it. But, as authors, we need to develop a thick skin because writing is a subjective art, much the same way as physicals arts like paintings or sculptures are. You are never going to please everyone, and attacking people who tell you no with emails such as “Do you know how many times I’ve been published?” or, better yet, calling us names, are not going to work in your favor of looking like a professional or encourage future supportive relationships.
No doesn’t always mean no forever
A fair amount of time, when we send out a rejection, it comes with the line, “Please resubmit to us after fixing x, y, and z.”
This isn’t just a nice thing that we say to people. We aren’t going to waste our time just to hand-hold people. That might sound a little bit callous, but to do a proper job in editing, proofreading, and covering a book will take around a year. Even books that are in really great condition when we get them will still take at least half that time. The time that we devote to our authors is precious to us, and if we don’t think we can serve your needs well enough in the time that we have, we’re going to say no for now.
But we do want you to come back, and we have pursued authors for a second submission when they’ve taken the time to listen to what we have to say to help them improve.
So what SHOULD I do when I receive a rejection?
Always thank the reader for their time, even if all you received was a form rejection. Keep it classy! The good karma is worth it.
If the reader took time to give you feedback, thank them for the time. If you have a specific question about the feedback (for example, you were told that you needed to make the characters more dynamic, clarifying what dynamic means to the reader) you can ask it, but ONLY ask to clarify.
If you didn’t get feedback, you can politely request it. Ask what you could do to improve your story, and if the reader takes time to respond, thank them profusely. Send ONLY ONE request for feedback. Do not stalk your reader.
Join us next week for an author interview with A4A Author Judy Lynn and her debut novel, Veil of Deceit.
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