All American Rejects

It’s probably not good juju to write my first post on rejection, but with a fresh (but oh-so polite!) rejection letter sitting on my desk the topic is kind of glaring with me today.

Specifically, what is one supposed to do with a soon-to-be-extensive collection of rejection letters?

Paper mache is an option. Bonfire with frantic tribal dancing also up there on the list…

My first response was to snip open a frozen push-up pop and stare out the window for a bit. My husband, Carl, usually reads this kinds of letters for me first—not because I can’t bear to look, but because he gets tired of waiting for my courage to rise [read: me spending the whole day moping like Dostoevsky on Demerol]. So he reads, tells me the gist, highlights anything nice the agent might have said about my writing.

So far, 3 things seem important to me in this process:

  1. Keep Perspective. It can be really, really tempting to only see the NO in a rejection letter. And, sometimes, that’s all the letter says. Then again, sometimes the agent or publisher actually said something nice before the resounded NO. Don’t minimize this! Don’t assume they say something nice to everybody just to make themselves feel better. They don’t. So, analyze the compliment. Did he say your pacing was good? Did she like your characters? Your descriptions? Your plot idea or hook? Knowing your strengths is an important step in learning to write better—you know what to showcase in your writing samples and what other things you may need to work harder at next time around.
  2. Play Detective. Not only can there be lessons to learn about your writing abilities, an agent may also give you crucial information about the market. In the rejection letter I received, the agent said my project has “merit” and that the writing quality is “good,” in places even “excellent.” HOWEVER, he feels that publishers aren’t looking for this type of genre/project and did not want to represent the book because he felt he would be unable to sell it. Well, I thought, crunching through a frozen push-up pop, better that the story is wrong for the market than that my writing sucks to an irreparable extent. A new story is easy to find. A new ability is harder to come by.
  3. Blow it Off. While you’re busy learning from each new rejection letter to better gauge your abilities and the market, don’t forget two essential truths: no agent is omniscient and your writing career shouldn’t define you. Some agents pass on books that turn out to be bestsellers. My aunt sent me this quote yesterday from Michael Larsen’s book How to Get a Literary Agent: “Eight years after his novel won the National Book AwardJerzy Kosinski permitted a writer to change his name and the title and send a manuscript of the novel to thirteen agents and fourteen publishers to test the plight of new writers. They all rejected [the novel], including Random House, which had published it!” Obviously, don’t let a rejection keep you from trying again. Don’t even let 20 rejections keep you from trying again (but, do learn from them!).

It’s definitely tempting to feel like a failure when I get rejected. For me anyway, it often helps to remind myself that writing isn’t the only thing in my life. It’s not my only goal, and a lot of times leaving my desk for a while to hit the gym, plan a fab meal for my husband and myself, catch up on family emails, or even clean the bathroom helps me to remember that I’m competent, successful, and pretty fab in other areas of my life.

Even if some New York agent doesn’t like my novel.

There are always more queries to write and definitely more plots and characters to explore.


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