Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Truth about Rejections

Nobody likes to be rejected… ever. Thing is… it’s part of the publishing business. I don’t think there’s a single person in publishing who hasn’t ever been rejected. Editors, agents, writers… we’re all in the same boat. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting; it merely means we have to learn to live with it – and accept it for what it is and isn’t. And one thing it isn’t is personal.

Rejections are not personal. Unless you insulted me in your query. Or turned up at my office unannounced and scared me. Or come across as a generally crazy and creepy person. Then, and only then, it might be personal. Obviously, a rejection will always feel personal to you… it’s your story, your blood, sweat, and tears we’re talking about after all… but if you can’t handle rejection from agents or editors, how will you handle bad reviews from readers? People have different preferences and tastes – and that’s okay. Some people love TWILIGHT, some don’t. Some people might even hate it with a passion. That’s just the way it is. You can’t argue about taste. And that’s what most of it comes down to: personal taste. Not everyone will like your story. Heck, not everyone will get your story. Focus on those who do.

Every week, agencies get between dozens and hundreds of submissions – submissions that need to be read. Right now, I have almost 90 unread partials and 7 unread requested fulls in my inbox. This adds up to a LOT of reading, which will mostly happen outside my official office hours. Reading is an exclusive activity, meaning I can either read OR do something else on my to-do list. I can’t answer emails or review contracts (or whatever else needs to be done) while reading manuscripts. It’s a time-consuming task, especially when you want to give each submission the attention it deserves. Unfortunately, the day only has 24 hours, so I need to be extremely picky when it comes to requesting fulls. If I asked to see the rest of each manuscript I get a query for, I’d never get out of the reading cave ever again (and probably die a long and lonely death). So I can only request fulls when I really think it might be right for me. Premise, characters, conflict, writing, personal taste… if one of these isn’t quite “there”, there is no point in me requesting the full and wasting my – and the author’s – time. Of course, that means I end up passing on a lot of decent, perhaps even great, manuscripts, but if it isn’t for me, it just isn’t for me. What I’m trying to say is… a rejection doesn’t mean your manuscript is bad. It really doesn’t. I get a lot of queries for stories that aren’t my cup of tea: sci-fi, high fantasy, talking animals, etc. – they could be fabulous, but since I don’t like that stuff, I’ll always pass on it. And that’s a good thing. Why? Well, because I’ll never be as passionate and enthusiastic about your work as I should be as your agent. How would I convince editors that your novel is oh-so-awesome if I don’t even like it myself? In that case a rejection from me is a blessing in disguise. It gives you the chance to find that one agent who will fall head over heels in love with your story.

I’m not saying the reason for every rejection I send out is personal taste. Of course, there are also submissions that lack something; whether it’s the writing, originality, voice, characters… there are many reasons why it might not be right for me. Perhaps it just isn’t quite ready yet. If all your rejections mention the same problem, it might be a good idea to take another look at your query, partial, or full. (Good critique partners and beta readers (no relatives) are invaluable by the way.)

Unfortunately, there isn’t enough time to respond to each query with detailed feedback, but I do try to give a quick reason for my rejection: wrong genre/ interesting premise, but weak pages/ didn’t connect with the voice/ didn’t care about the MC/ not my cup of tea…

… and that’s when it’s time to move on. Please don’t argue with my rejection. Don’t ask me to tell you what to change in order for me to love it; don’t tell me that I don’t have a clue and that you’ll become a bestselling and super rich author; don’t send me the next few chapters because “it gets much better in chapter 5”; don’t insult me; don’t resubmit the same manuscript 8 or 12 or 24 weeks later… I’ve already moved on and won’t change my mind. Yes, there are cases where I’m happy (and hoping) to see a revised version of the manuscript, but I will let you know if that’s the case. If I don’t mention that I want to see it again, I won’t want to see it again. That’s the ugly truth. (For more details, see my post on when (not) to resubmit.)

But as I mentioned above… that’s no reason to despair. It only takes one agent to fall for your manuscript… and if it’s not me, it will be someone else. It’s like trying to find “The One”… you wouldn’t follow someone around for ages and begging them to got out despite their obvious disinterest, right? Exactly. (If, and I really hope it isn’t, your answer is “yes”, you’re a stalker. That’s not how normal people behave.) You’d cut your losses, move on, and find someone else who actually WANTS to go out with you. Now, how about you apply that attitude to querying and agents? The agent doesn’t see how awesome you and your manuscript are? Fine. Their loss. Don’t undersell yourself. Move on. Find someone who does.

If that someone isn’t me, I apologise. But I also wish you the best of luck finding that agent who shares your passion and enthusiasm for your manuscript. You deserve it.

And Zac thinks so, too:


  1. If you and Zac both think so, then it's all right by me too.


    P.S. Thanks for the insights into an agent's mind.