Getting rejected sucks. There’s no denying it—and it’s perfectly okay to feel sad when that rejection letter (or more commonly now, e-mail) rolls in. Feel the pain; have a cry if you need to; comfort yourself in whatever way you need. Confidence and determination doesn’t mean you can’t feel when you get rejected.
But you have to balance those feelings with a few things:
First, the agent or publisher is not rejecting you personally. They are not even rejecting your book or idea personally. The fact is that agents and publishers are bombarded by thousands of queries every year, and no matter how good they may be, they simply cannot represent thousands of authors. So imagine how hard it must be for them to turn down ideas that might be really interesting or unique or amazing… but just not quite right.
Maybe they recently picked up a project with the same concept. Maybe their client list is already full of the genre you’re writing, and an idea has to be SPECTACULAR to get their interest. Maybe the market just recently shifted, in ways the public doesn’t even know yet, and your idea is on the way out. Maybe they like your idea—but don’t love it.
Or, yes, maybe your idea or book just isn’t quite good enough. It’s okay to accept that idea; it doesn’t mean you’ve given up or have no confidence. And one agent’s “not good enough” may be another agent’s “amazing.”
We can never truly know why an agent rejected us—was it the idea? The POV? The pacing? The turn of phrase in your pitch paragraph? The length? The genre? The author bio (or lack thereof)? Did they just happen to get a flurry of amazing queries recently?
Whatever the reason, know that it just wasn’t meant to be. And that’s okay.
The second thing to do is keep writing—if you haven’t already, start focusing on another project. For me, this does several things. It helps to distract me from obsessing over the querying (and rejection) process, at least a little. It also helps me feel like this book I’m querying isn’t the entire sum of what I can do, or what I can be. And it creates a situation in which I feel like I have a back-up on the way should querying for this book fail entirely; I’ll just start querying the next one when it’s ready. It helps me feel like rejection is not the end.
The third potential thing is to remember all the successful books which were rejected… a lot. Harry Potter got nine rejections before making OVER A BILLION DOLLARS (and counting). The Help got, I believe, forty nine rejections before becoming a book club bestseller and a movie. So just because your baby got rejected doesn’t mean it can’t go on to rule the world…
But this way of thinking is ultimately a defense mechanism, a way of feeling like you can still be a breakout phenomenon even after your imagined story of instant success disappears. The reality is that for every one in a million story of success, there are 999,999 stories of… not success. I refuse to say “failure,” because the only failure is not trying at all.
Today’s world is friendlier to the random writer—self-publishing can surpass the gatekeepers and even lead to success (though with the same cautious caveats of exception vs. rule as above). And you never know what might happen…
So take in the rejection, feel what you need to feel, and get back out there. Be proud of yourself for writing a book at all—and even more so, for being brave enough to send it out there. No matter what happens, that is an accomplishment worth celebrating.
Patience. Acceptance. Cautious confidence. Hold these three qualities in your mind, and you will survive the querying process. And you just might be starting a whole new life.