Do I really need to write about what it’s like to get rejected? I don’t think so. If you’ve ever heard (or said), “It’s not you, it’s me,” then you already have some idea of what the world of agent and publication rejection is like.
So here’s my advice for dealing with rejection: You come up with a plan. I’m going to tell you (again) what I did to get a lit agent, since that is more in your control than getting a publishing house to say yes (although there are things you can do to help your agent – we’ll save that for another time).
First, I did my research and identified 24 potential agents. Then I ranked them, not by their popularity or success, but by how much we had in common (did they love to rep books in my genre) or their likelihood to say yes (how big was their list, how receptive were their do unsolicited submissions, what were their hobbies/likes/dislikes, what were their most recent titles, etc.). It’s a bit like applying for college or figuring out who to invite to your wedding – you have an A list and a B list, maybe even a C list. I found out as much as I could about the agent, and I also used my gut instinct. There was nothing random or whimsical about my list – no one on my list was a shot in the dark. It was a very thoughtful, well-researched list for me and my book.
My first wave of agent queries was 8-10 letters. I spent A LOT of time writing a great query letter, putting together a terrific synopsis and pulling together a clean and professional query package. I also broke the rules and almost always sent at least the first 3 pages or, if it “felt” right, the first chapter (trust me – if you write a great query and keep it professional, you can get away with this). I used this submission process for my first novel, TERRACOTTA WOMEN, and then 10 years later for GOOD THINGS.
For both novels, I received 10-12 ultimate rejections, but I would say at least 1/3 wanted to see more. About 2/3 sent personalized rejections, with specific comments about my writing or the manuscript and in some cases saying they’d be happy to hear from me again. In both cases I received a couple of agent offers – for TERRACOTTA WOMEN, I self-sabotaged that by getting cold feet and for GOOD THINGS, well, you know what happened there … I now have the honor of calling myself a published author.
Rejection is easier to deal with if you have a plan for moving forward. The better the plan, the better your chances of success. It also helps keep you focused on the big picture, and you can have a ready response to a rejection letter – you send another query out. Rejection is part of the path to publication, but don’t give it the power to affect your moods or your sense of worth (at least not for more than five minutes!). Having a plan keeps rejection in check, and there’s another added benefit: when that acceptance finally comes, you’ll be ready for it.
P.S. This is probably as good of a time as any to tell you that I have a new literary agent! Jenny Bent from Trident Media Group will be repping my new work. I am thrilled to be working with her!