Monday, October 26, 2009

Rejecting Rejection and Embracing Revision

Rejection is part of the publication-seeking process. But that doesn't mean it won't hurt each and every time we're rejected. So, how do we find ways to keep going?

Easy. All you have to do is realize one simple truth: rejection is a good thing.

“Right,” you say. “Why would we want to be rejected?”
Well, true, no one wants to be rejected. Even the word, re-JEC-ted, sounds so harsh. But that doesn’t mean we can’t turn it into a good thing.

First, let’s take a look at the kinds of rejections that agents send out.

The Form.
This is the standard rejection letter that agents send to everyone. It takes them two seconds to either copy and paste into an email, or stuff into an envelope. It means that either your query or your story didn’t spark enough to warrant more.

The Personal.
This is a rejection with specific comments about the content of your story. The agent may say your writing is good, or that certain aspects of your story work well, and she might even make suggestions for improving it. But, ultimately, it’s not right for her. So, even if you take her suggestions and revise your story, don’t send it back when you’re done. However, you can send her future projects. Side note: this kind of rejection often comes after a request to see the manuscript.

Revision Request.
This is the best kind of rejection because it isn’t really a rejection. The agent has made a connection with your story, but finds it lacking in specific areas. So, she asks you to improve those areas and then send the story back to her. Agents don’t say these things lightly, so, unless the suggested changes don’t resonate with you, don’t ignore this request. On that same note, don’t assume that you’ll get an automatic acceptance once you’ve revised. She might still say no.

No Response.
This is probably the most difficult and confusing rejection of all, because it leaves us wondering if our query was even received. It’s also becoming more common. The number of queries has risen so dramatically that agents just can’t keep up. Many have decided not to respond unless interested in seeing more.

When you start sending out your query letters, keep this in mind: your query isn’t perfect. Because of this, you absolutely should not send out fifty queries at a time. Not even twenty. Really, you shouldn’t have more than ten queries out at a time. Less is better, especially when you’re first starting out.

The reason is this. If you send your imperfect query to fifty agents, you’re hurting your chances at landing a contract. You get ONE shot with an agent, so you can’t afford to blow it. Instead, send your queries out in small batches, and then you can analyze what needs improvement by the kinds of rejections you receive.

If you’re getting all form rejections, that means your query needs work. Maybe the story summary isn’t compelling enough, maybe you sound desperate or flat instead of passionate about your work, or maybe there’s a glaring error that you missed. Either way, it’s time to revisit your query and make some improvements.

If you’re getting mostly personal rejections, that means there is something lacking in your story. Or, at least, in the beginning of your story. If you can’t hook an agent in the first twenty pages, they aren’t going to keep reading. So, it’s time to revisit your story, armed with any suggestions for improvements.

If you’re getting revision requests, but still getting rejected afterwards, then take a look at the way you revise. Did you really address the issues raised? Did you take the time to absorb the suggestions before you began revising? Did you keep the heart of your story in mind as you made changes? It’s easy to get so excited about an interested agent that you can lose sight of everything else. Above all, you need to stay true to your story so it remains consistent, and at the same time you need to address the issues being raised. Sometimes the agent’s solution will work fine. Other times, you’ll need to come up with your own.

So, as I said in the beginning, rejection is a good thing. Why? Because it tells us how to improve. We just need to figure out how to listen, and then improve our work until there's no way an agent can say no. That's when we'll get THE CALL...which is the topic for next week. :)


Keri Mikulski said...

Without rejections we wouldn't be pushed to be our best. :) Great post. :)

Tabitha said...

Very true! Thanks!! :)

Laura Scarlett said...

Great post! I really like the suggestion of not sending out all the queries at once to give one room to revise based on past responses.

Nayuleska said...

Good advice. Ditto what Laura said - I'll just send out a few at a time! (when I get to that stage in around a year)

Donna Gambale said...

Really helpful post - bookmarked this one!

Sherrie Petersen said...

Excellent points!

I cringe when I think of the queries I sent out a year ago. They were so BAD. Hopefully I've learned since then!

Danyelle L. said...

Great post! As frustrating as rejections can be, I'm glad agents don't offer representation unless they feel passionate about the project. Between the two, I'd rather have an agent that loved my work than someone who was just looking at if from a marketing perspective. :)

Bish Denham said...

Great suggestions. The no response gets me. I like those positive/personal rejections, they give me hope, they keep me going.

J.Tuttle said...

Thanks for the post. It's good to hear all the possible reasons one gets rejected and to be reminded why as well.

Rebecca Knight said...

I love the way you lay this out: logical and motivational! Thanks for the great advice :D.

Anonymous said...

Great post!

I would also subdivide the personal into:

There's potential here, but this ms. isn't quite ready for the market.


This is a publishable ms., but it just doesn't click with me personally. You'll find someone it does click with.

Not that it's always easy to distinguish!

--Jenn Hubbard, Anon due to OpenID error

MG Higgins said...

Really great advice. I've received all four types of agent rejections and the request for a revision didn't feel like a rejection even after she eventually passed, because I'd learned so much from her input.

Christina Farley said...

Great stuff here Tabitha! It's hard to be patient but that's a huge part of it.

C.R. Evers said...

Great post! I'm going through a pretty major writing rut after having a very discouraging critique at my local SCBWI conference. Some ruts are worse than others, but I determined to pick myself up and get back in the game. So what if I have to make changes. That's the business, isn't it?

Thnx for the encouraging post!

PJ Hoover said...

Great post, Tabitha! It is a hard thing, but it really does help in the long run. At the time, though, ouch. Wine helps. And chocolate. And even a friend to confide in.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Tabitha.

"it tells us how to improve. We just need to figure out how to listen" -- excellent point! :)