So you’ve finally finished your manuscript, poured your time, energy, heart, and soul into every page. Now comes that alien prospect of having to share it with the world.
For some of us we’re filled with excitement and anticipation, and then for the rest of us, total dread and confusion. Nonetheless our work deserves to see the light of day, so we stumble out into the world on a wing and a prayer in the hopeful pursuit of getting our work published.
Now if you are anything like me, my imaginary worlds filled with obscure creatures and sordid beasts are a far more familiar surrounding than the real world. I can write characters with charisma, predators with a purpose, sassy salesmen, and hostiles with a heart, but ask me to do and be any of those things myself and you are likely to see me bolt.
In any case we push on regardless and start to send our work out, falling in love with every agent and publisher that aligns with our work. We sit with an excited anxiety, waiting patiently for a response, our nerves shot as we update our email inbox for the billionth time.
"The seasons change and then you get it, your first response... a rejection letter. It lands in your inbox like unfriendly fire pounding on the roof of your once secure barrack."
Now don’t get me wrong, the heavens don’t come hurtling down leaving you ruined and tormented like something out of a zombie apocalypse thriller, but a small piece of your hope and confidence shrivels up. Not a great turn of events, given that I tend to find us writers don’t have an abundance of hope and confidence even at the best of times.
Like I say, it’s not earth shattering but it does sting. It leaves you thinking ‘am I good enough,’ and, ‘should I carry on.’ Coupled with these thoughts you have the darkening feeling of guilt – ‘did I waste their time,’ and sadness – ‘somebody hates my work.’
If you let these thoughts spiral they can quickly lead you down the rabbit hole of self defeat, leaving you squarely in despair - ‘right, I’m giving up.’ If this sounds familiar then just stop right there!
So much power we’ve given to this email, this one measly rejection letter. There could be any number of reasons why your work was rejected. Annoyingly, they won’t be able to delve into a great deal of feedback because they literally get hundreds of submissions every day. Some don’t even reply at all, and in these cases it is best to give it a month or two and then simply move on.
"Believe it or not, the most common reasons for rejection are because of prior commitments the agents and publishers have made themselves."
If their listings are full and they are working every hour under the sun then they cannot physically take on additional work. The second most common reason for rejection is that your work (the genre, the writing style, the plot, the characters etc) isn’t suitable for their lists.
This doesn’t mean they hated it.
This can mean a variety of things, like they are already representing something similar and it’s a conflict of interest. It could also mean that they have a certain type of fan base that they sell to and your book targets a totally different audience that they are not best placed to sell to. Or it could be as simple as your work is too long and their printers charge them too much money to print a longer book.
In my opinion, it doesn’t matter why they rejected your work, they have done you a favour. Whatever the reasoning, they were unable to do your work justice. They didn’t feel passionately enough about your work to fight for it. Your work deserves that passion. It deserves that fire and love. So, don’t settle for anything less.
"Every rejection takes your work that one step closer to finding its rightful home..."
...Hopefully a home resting somewhere up high on a shelf, in a bustling city centre book shop with a thousand eyes coveting its sleek cover as they pass by.
Don’t ever think your work isn’t good enough. Don’t ever think of quitting.
Rejection is a part of life. It helps us grow and learn. So, get up dust yourself off and keep trying. If you have learnt something, then the experience wasn’t a failure. I know of authors who have been rejected hundreds of times before they made it. You can too.
So what can you do to move onward and upward?
Reflect: Don’t go to a negative place. Reflect on the rejection. What can you do or say better the next time? Have they given you any feedback? If they have then great, take it on board and edit accordingly. If they haven’t given you feedback, can you find some beta readers to help you?
Research: Take a look around, there are websites dedicated to helping authors hone their pitches like Query Shark. There are also websites out there where you can find like minded agents such as Manuscript Wishlist. The Writers & Artists' Yearbook provides a whole wealth of information. The better informed you are about what you are doing and what agents and publishers want the more likely you are to grab their attention.
Seek out guidance and feedback: Face to face writing groups (soon, soon), online forums, and social networks will help you make connections with other writers who have been through the process. These communities can help you find beta readers to give you feedback, but most importantly they provide you with support and help you realize you are not alone.
A few optional extras to help you get noticed: If you want to strengthen your applications and make yourself stand out from the crowd, then go that little bit further. I know rejection is painful but putting yourself out there and getting a little better known will help tremendously with agents and publishers.
Don’t put your full manuscript out online because that will put publishers off, but maybe write some blogs, poems or short stories. Set up social networking pages. Enter competitions. Make a free website.
Maybe even collaborate with other authors. If publishers and agents can see you already have a following and your work is being enjoyed by others, then you are going to be much more appealing in their eyes.
"Most importantly, just keep going."
Even if you can’t get on board with the traditional publishing route there are many options out there: self-publishing, independent publishing, or simply having your work online with a regular following of people who enjoy your words.
If you wrote it and it’s important to you, chances are it will be important to someone else. Don’t shelve your potential. Reject those rejections!
Need help publishing? Check out The Ultimate Guide to Getting a Literary Agent.