Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Tuesday Tip: Rejections

This week we're talking about rejections. You experienced writers, stay tuned too, I've got a view from the other side of the desk at the end of the post.

Rejections come part and parcel with being a writer. Your work will get rejected over and over again. It will happen, trust me. Be prepared for it.

Especially early in your career, when you send something out you have such high hopes. You eagerly await the agent/editor/publisher's response. You check your mail, or your email, far more often than could possibly make sense. And then, joy! You see the letter, or the email...and you realize the worst.


And it happens again. And again. And again.

You start to wonder if you're really cut out for this. Maybe you really are a hack. Maybe you really don't have what it takes.

Screw that noise.

A very dear friend once said of dating, "I take rejection like showers." And that's precisely what every writer has to learn to do.

Oh, it's not easy at first, I'll grant you that. I'd say "send it and forget it," but honestly I don't think that's actually possible. Just do your best not to worry or think about it. Work on something else. (You should always be working on a new project anyway, right?)

The tricky part is not getting emotionally invested in any one query. So-and-so passed on your story? Oh well. Next! Have a plan, make a list, know who your next market is.

The number of rejections doesn't matter. All you need is one "yes."

I'm a pack rat, so I tend to keep all my rejection emails. (I have grand plans of making files for all my stuff some day so the story, the rejections, and the contracts are all together. "See, this story got rejected X times, but I sold it. Look at this great rejection letter!") What's more important and useful is my Submissions spreadsheet, which keeps track of what story is out for what project, what that project's deadline was (when applicable), what date I submitted it, how long I have to wait before inquiring, and any notes. Every time something gets rejected I move that spreadsheet line over to the "rejected" tab so I don't end up accidentally sending the same story to the same market again.

Read your rejection letters, but don't obsess. Form letters can just get filed or tossed. If your correspondent was kind enough to make some personal comments or give you advice, take those to heart. You don't necessarily have to follow their advice, but sleep on it and consider how you might make your work better. I had one story get rejected with a huge long paragraph of advice on what would have made them like it more. I got a little down, figuring I'd have to do a major overhaul and I didn't want to. After a month of putting off working on that story (I had others I was much more interested in) I eventually shot it off to another market without doing much to it, figuring I sure as heck was not going to sell it if it just sat in my Work In Progress folder. Got an enthusiastic acceptance the same day. Sometimes all it takes is finding the right market.

The waiting can be brutal. Sometimes I think the rejection is actually easier than the waiting. Once you're rejected you can act. You can work on making the piece better, or you can send it out again. Taking rejections like showers does not help you with the waiting game. Problem is, as Jennifer R Hubbard says in this great post, a writer is always waiting for something. Find a method that works for you that lets you deal with the waiting. For me, I keep busy. Housework, new writing project, new book to read, whatever. Anything but checking my email every five minutes.

Do not bug your agent/editor/publisher.

Really. Don't do it.

Find out what their response time usually is. Most markets will have it listed somewhere, and it's usually 6-8 weeks. That means you cannot ask for an update or a status for two months. If you haven't heard anything in two months, send a very brief, very polite request for an update. This is what I send regarding my novel:

"I am writing to inquire about the status of my novel TITLE, the [first fifty pages/first three chapters/synopsis/etc] of which you requested on DATE. I know you are very busy, but a brief update would be greatly appreciated.

If you need the sample resent, please let me know."

For short stories it would be basically the same thing, only shorter:

"I am writing to inquire about the status of my short story TITLE, which was submitted to you on DATE. I know you are very busy, but a brief update would be greatly appreciated. Please let me know if there is any further assistance I can provide."

Then you wait some more. I'd probably give it at least a week, probably two, if I didn't hear anything back after that.

Now, I've been on the other side of the desk. I wasn't in the publishing business, but I was the purchasing manager for a large distributor, and everyone who wanted us to carry their product sent their pitches to me. I saw an appalling range of professionalism, from people who sent samples with no contact information to people who thought it was ok to call me every other day.

I'll say it again, do not harass your agent/editor/publisher. Nothing made me want to say "no" more than someone who wasted my time.

The other thing that drove me insane were the people who couldn't manage to fill out our simple Information form, even with the FAQ I wrote on how to fill it out. How that translates to the publishing industry is, make sure you read the submission guidelines and follow them! Send everything they ask for. Don't send things they didn't ask for.

But that's really more on the query side of things. On the rejection side, if someone rejects your work with a form letter, don't write to ask them why. (Sometimes it's really just not a good fit, and that's the best answer you're going to get.) Don't ask what you could do differently, or how you can convince them to change their minds. Don't ask if you can resubmit the same work to them. And for goodness sake, don't write them a scathing response about how they are making a huge mistake or they have terrible taste or they must be really bad at their job to turn down your work. Truly, I got those emails. Guess what? I'm now fifty times less likely to consider your next project. Thank you for playing, do not darken my virtual doorstep again.

Harsh? Maybe. But having been an insanely busy person having to field similar requests, I know how it made me feel. Even being a writer and knowing what the people submitting to me were going through didn't help much when I had five voice messages, a hundred emails, and twenty purchase orders to do yet before lunch. The people who left me alone and tried to make things as easy for me as possible did get noticed, gratefully, and if I had to reject them I was much more likely to give them feedback or advice. People who were polite, professional, and recognized that my time was valuable were, in my mind, worth spending a little extra time on. I imagine it's the same in the publishing industry. Work it, people.


  1. What a great read on a great tip. I've been feeling sorry for myself recently for the inevitable rejection that never came. Like you say, sometimes the rejection is easier to take than the wait.

    I never thought I would let rejections get the best of me, but I guess they do.

  2. Rejections are hard, but they're part of the business. Although the number of agents that just don't reply if they aren't interested boggles me. I mean, I understand a little, I hated getting those annoying replies to my rejections too, and they have a lot more of them than I did. (And I sending rejections, even form ones.) But still, it strikes me as unprofessional - especially when some agents ONLY do email queries, not even giving you the option of sending the SASE so you can get the form rejection letter and know when to send out the next query.

    The no-response thing has made it a lot easier for me to do multiple queries at once. I'm happy to give an exclusive to someone willing to read the full, but I can't offer an exclusive query to someone who won't reply with the rejection. I think that's only fair.

    But I'm glad the Tip was helpful! Don't give up! Remember, it only takes one Yes.