Friday, February 01, 2008

Rejection Letters

Unless you’re just writing the first draft of your first attempt at a book, you’ve probably queried agents. And unless your first query letter was an immediate success, you probably have your own horror story or tale of woe.

You’ve queried a hundred agents and got a hundred and four rejections. You had six agents show interest and ask for the full manuscript then heard back from absolutely none of them. You sat at your desk and stared at the phone for three days, unable to make your hand pick up the receiver and call an agent who, eight months ago, said they’d get back to you in six weeks. You landed an agent who was enthusiastic about your book and your chances of snagging an editor/publisher, then checked his website, only to read that he’s decided not to represent fiction (or nonfiction –whichever is the one you write) since he’s not having any luck selling it.

Most unpublished authors, if they’ve been in the business long enough, have a three-inch notebook or a foot-high stack of rejection letters/notecards/strips of paper saying “not for me,” or “not right for our agency,” or “loved the characters, hated the setting,” or “hilarious but just accepted another similar manuscript yesterday,” or some other equally obscure, coulda-been-a-stamp comment.

Gina Barreca, in The Chronicle Review, wrote a piece called “Growing Literary Agents from Stem Cells.” It’ll give you a laugh to start your day.

Get out your notebook of rejections. Ignore the recent additions – they’re still too painful to read. Go back a few months or a few manuscripts. What’s your favorite (read: craziest or most asinine) – now that the sting has had time to go away? What was your favorite from the other end of the scale (read: most helpful or informative)?

Maybe it’s time to reorganize your collection. Instead of lumping them all together, make two piles – hurtful and helpful. If you must keep the hurtful comments, pack them away in a box in a dark place. Keep out the helpful ones. You can use those to boost your spirits on a difficult writing day, or to rev your courage up to make a call to an agent, or just to keep you working when you begin to wonder why you ever thought you could be a writer.


  1. Love this article! We are having debates over at Literary Rejections on Display about whether it's us or them. Hard to say. Thanks for posting this. Check out my link to it:

  2. It's always difficult to sympathize with the opposition. And although agents and writers have to co-exist and work together, we do tend to see each other as being a block to reaching our goal. Agents want to get books published and build an agent/client relationship -- after all, they love books and, let's face it, it's how they make their living. Writers want to be published authors and share their stories with others -- after all, they love books and it's how they make their living.

    And, yet, on the road to our goals, we often seem to be standing on opposites sides.

  3. I keep my rejection letters.

    I often wonder why?

    It's like keeping parking tickets. You wouldn't do that, or letters home to your Mum & Dad from childhood saying how disappointing you were at school that day.

    I'm off now to make a fire. Wonder what I could use for kindling?

  4. If you decide not to burn them, consider putting them in a notebook and high on a shelf. When you become a big-name author, they become a handy show-and-tell for when you're speaking to a group of other writers. Everyone has their pile of rejections and it's fun to see that someone successful has his/hers as well.

  5. Was only joking, they are all filed away!

    I heard once that someone wallpapered their study with their rejection letters!

  6. I've heard that story, too. I wonder if there's a picture floating around the Internet. If it was public domain, I'd put it on my site.


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