In 2012, I received my first rejection from an agent. It came a day after I had sent the query for my 120,000 word epic fantasy novel, and I was crushed. The rejected manuscript was the first I had completed, and it had taken me over five years to write it. I had sent it to one beta reader, who had given me excellent feedback and lots of encouragement, and I was quite sure I had written the next breakout novel. I was going to defy the odds and quickly secure an agent on the first book I had written. A year, many edits, and 97 form rejections/no responses later, I finally gave up and self-published the book and its sequel. (A word of advice here. Don’t self-publish unless you have the time and money to invest in hiring a quality editor, a good cover artist, and marketing. Just don’t.) Looking back at those two books, which are no longer available, I’m dreadfully embarrassed that I ever let them out in public. Though I couldn’t see it at the time, there was a reason–many reasons–that the book never got so much as a personalized rejection.
Fast-forward to December, 2015. I had just finished my MFA in fiction writing. My thesis was a YA fantasy novel, and it had passed through the inspection of my mentor, who was a published author. This was going to be my big break. I sent out a handful of queries and got my first rejection–but it was personalized. I was thrilled. I just had to find the right agent.
But the rejections kept rolling in. I realized there were problems with my first chapters. I went to a writer’s workshop. I found a few critique partners. I revised. I sent out more queries–and I got my first full request. Cue internal screaming and certainty that I had found my agent. A few days later, I got another request. And more rejections. And another request. And then the requests turned into rejections. And more rejections. And more rejections. And every one of them said the same unhelpful sort of thing: “I just didn’t love it enough.”
In 2016, I entered Pitch Wars, hoping that either I would find a mentor to tell me what was wrong with my manuscript or (even better!) someone would tell me that there wasn’t anything wrong with it at all and maybe send it along to their agent.
But I didn’t get a single request. I was a complete failure. One of the mentors had tweeted that if you didn’t get any requests, it probably meant you weren’t ready to query; something was wrong with your manuscript. I was devastated. I questioned why I was writing. I thought about scrapping the book. Maybe even giving up altogether. My writing clearly wasn’t good enough. I was never going to find an agent and never going to be published.
The irony is, as I discovered a few days after the mentees were announced, none of the mentors had actually received my application because of a technical glitch. In the end, two of them gave me valuable feedback, but I’ll never know if one of them might have requested more if they had received it before they had made their decision. I had fallen into a morass of self-doubt for no reason at all.
I revised my first chapter based on the Pitch Wars feedback, and I sent the new version to the agent who had my manuscript at the time. I kept querying and getting a few requests–and loads of rejections–and, finally, I started writing a new manuscript. That November, I participated in Nanowrimo, and I rediscovered the joy of writing. I loved this new manuscript. It was better than the last one. It no longer mattered if the last one kept getting rejected.
And then, at the very end of November, the agent who had requested my manuscript in July responded. I stared at my email, dumbfounded. She wanted to know if she could call me to discuss representation. We talked a few days later, and she was wonderful. I still had several queries and full manuscripts out, so I gave the other agents two weeks to respond. They all passed because they didn’t have time to read it or because they didn’t quite love it enough, and I happily accepted the offer from Nicole Payne at Golden Wheat Literary. In total, I received 120 rejections/no responses on the manuscript. But I had one yes, and that’s what mattered.
The point of all of this… The competition in programs like WriteMentor or Pitch Wars or Query Kombat is stiff. If you don’t get in–or don’t even get requests–it really doesn’t mean anything. Being on the other side of it as a WriteMentor mentor has shown me how subjective it all is. I’ve received submissions that need a lot of work to be query ready–probably more than can be done in three months of mentorship. I’ve received other submissions that seem like they’re very nearly ready. I’ve received a handful that might actually be ready. Every single manuscript has so much potential. My final decision will be based entirely on my own personal taste and what I think I can give the most help to in the three months before the agent showcase. There are some amazing submissions that I won’t be requesting even though I really want to read them, simply because I know I won’t be a good mentor for the concept or the writing style or the genre. It doesn’t mean that these manuscripts aren’t query ready or nearly query ready. It’s all ridiculously subjective.
So don’t be discouraged. Keep writing. Keep improving. Keep querying. Maybe the manuscript you’re working on will be published. Maybe it won’t. Maybe it will be the next book, or the one after that. You’ll never know unless you keep going.
8 thoughts on “Rejections, rejections, rejections… Not a rejection”
Great insight. And nice to see that the road carved out by sweat and preserve fence really paid off. It’s a tough business. It’s show biz without the show and when it finally happens you’re backstage and your baby boom is in the light. Thanks for sharing this personal journey!
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Thanks Jodi, I needed to hear this today. Rejection is a bummer and gets me down some days. I’m being hard on myself, because I’ve applied for numerous contests now and never had a request or feedback. Thank you for the reminder that subjectivity plays a big role. Just gotta keep writing, revising, moving on. How did you find out the mentors in Pitch Wars didn’t get your application btw? That’s so sad – but it obviously worked out for you in the end!
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One of the mentors tweeted that she had sent feedback to everyone who had submitted to her… and I hadn’t received anything. So I checked with her and she had never received my application. By the way, I entered several other contests, and I never made it into them either. Keep going!
What a brutal journey, yet you stayed the course. Having no feedback for the longest time has got to be the worst because there’s no indication on how to fix the MS or in what direction to proceed…except write another book!
A technical glitch? Holy molly!
A question: did you inform those two agents you’ve had an offer and would give ’em two weeks to decide?
Yes, I let all the agents who either had my manuscript or whom I had recently queried know that I had had an offer. One of the agents requested my full at that point, though she ended up giving me a very kind rejection.
Great post. Perseverance is everything when trying to establish a writing career, but it’s the silence that gets you. I’d rather have a rejection saying it was the worst thing they’d ever read than just nothing. Rejections can be used as motivation, silence only erodes what little self belief prospective writers might have.
I agree! Non-responses are so much worse. It leaves you guessing whether your submission has been read yet. At least when I received a rejection, I could send out a new query.
It’s nice to know that even though everyone’s path is different, we all suffer the same slings and arrows.