Nearly three years ago, I received one of the most soul-crushing rejections I’ve ever received. It was from a super star agent–someone who reps best-sellers–and a month earlier she had requested a partial from me. What did this mortifying rejection say? My writing was rich and vivid, but despite the merits, she wasn’t pulled in enough to go further.
I know. Awful, right?
It was one of the kindest rejections I’ve ever received, and yet it crushed me far more than the one from the agent who told me my characters were flat and my premise wasn’t original enough.
For me, it was all about expectations. This was from my dream agent. I wanted so badly to to work with her. And when I had gotten the request, I had let my thoughts run wild. What if this was the one? What if that chance conversation with one of her clients–the conversation that had led to a referral–was a divine appointment? What if this was meant to be?
Obviously, it wasn’t meant to be, and about two months later I signed with a different agent. That started a whole new process of waiting and rejection: being on submission. You hear the stories about authors who go on submission and within a few weeks, their book is sold at auction for six figures. That’d be nice, but for most of us, being on submission is like querying, except worse. At least with querying, you can send out a new query when you get a rejection. Being on submission means you’re still subject to seemingly endless waiting and rejection, but you have even less control. And when you do get that publishing deal, you’re not even allowed to announce it right away–there’s even more waiting.
So if waiting and rejection are an inevitable part of almost every stage of the publishing of the publishing process, how can we keep ourselves sane? We’re writers. We like to be in control–of our characters, our plots, our words. How can we let go of control in a business that’s full of uncertainty?
Here are my hard-earned tips on handling rejections without being pulverized by them. And by hard-earned, I mean I’ve been there. I’m still there. Between querying agents and being on submission, I’ve amassed hundreds of rejections. I know how much they hurt.
- Manage your expectations to begin with. This doesn’t mean you should be a pessimist and assume that you’ll never got an offer or rep or a publishing deal. If this is your dream, you need to chase it. But don’t set all your hopes on one specific agent or editor or publishing house. Let go of your desire to control everything. Do your research, obviously, but be open to venues that weren’t your original top choices.
- When you get a rejection, allow yourself to grieve, but don’t wallow. It’s okay to cry. Drink a little wine. Eat some chocolate. But then get back up and keep going. Rejections don’t mean you’ll always get rejections.
- Find your encouragers. These are the people in your life that you can go to and whine and complain to about the rejections, and they’ll commiserate with you and then tell you how wonderful your writing is and remind you to get back up and keep going. I find critique partners are the best for this because they’re writers too. They’ve gone through the rejection. And they wouldn’t be your critique partners if they didn’t love your writing, so they really mean it when they tell you you’re awesome.
- Keep writing. For me, this is the hardest thing. It’s tempting to spend your time refreshing your inbox or Twitter-stalking agents and editors as if that will give you some clue as to whether they’ve read your submission. But that only sends your nerves into high gear during the wait and makes the rejections sting more. I’ve found if I’m focused on a new project, I barely notice the rejections. I’m too excited about the next book to be crushed.
- Trust yourself and your abilities and enjoy the writing process. Okay, I said continuing on with something new is the hardest thing for me, but maybe this issue of trust is bigger–because it affects my ability to write. I have had the worst time trying to draft the book I’m currently working on. It’s going better now, but for a good six months, I could hardly write a thing. Part of it was due to external factors like a career change and job stress. But a whole lot of it was because of rejections trickling in. I’ve gotten to the point where the rejections don’t slam the breath from my chest and leave me sobbing on the floor. But, boy, do they wiggle into my brain and whisper doubt. If the last book isn’t getting picked up, will this one be any better? Is this first chapter good enough? Is the premise good enough? Am I good enough? Those doubts can be subtle, and they can be awful to get rid of. I finally had to decide that I was just going to have fun writing and not worry about being published. It was the only thing that could shut up the doubts. Does that mean I’m giving up on becoming published? Of course not. But I can’t focus on that when drafting. I need to remember why I loved writing to begin with: it brings me joy.
Wherever you’re at in your publishing journey, hold on. Rejections hurt, but the more you write, the better you’ll get at it. Use them to grow instead of letting them crush you.