Rejection is the bane of every writer’s life – that soul destroying moment when you see the agent/publisher’s email in your inbox and a brief moment of hope flickers before you open it and your eyes quickly scan through the words….‘after careful consideration’…’unfortunately’…’not right for my list’…’another agent may feel differently’…’good luck’. Instantly you wonder if the off-license is still open or if there’s chocolate cake in the fridge cause you’re gonna need something to get through yet another knock back.
Having gathered more than my fair share, I’ve realised that those ‘no thank yous’ could be the best thing that ever happened to my writing. Allow me to explain.
The more the merrier!
Gather rejections. As many as you can, for some hidden gems may lie within. Keep sending out submissions but when you get to double figures on the rejection pile take stock. Is there a similar vein to each one? Casting aside the form rejections, did any offer feedback or insight and if so, are they of any use to you? We are too quick to let the disappointment in and you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t feel deflated and not good enough but later go back, read it again, for there are nuggets to be gleaned.
Consider the market stall you’re setting out
One agent (whom I admire –that’s important) told me that while he liked my writing, he couldn’t place it as a historical novel right now (it’s set in the 1840s). Initially I was horrified. That’s my story, it’s not something that can be altered. Head explodes! BUT when I thought about what I had said to him in my query letter, what my title may be suggesting, what my synopsis was saying I realised that perhaps I was highlighting the very thing that is in fact putting agents off. Yes, my story is set in harsh historical times but it’s a fantasy, a swirling gothic fantasy. A good story should shine through no matter the setting.
His words forced me to look at my book with a marketing eye. I may have written a book worthy of release (I have to believe so) but I also needed to re-check what my market stall was actually selling. Are the two things the same? If that agent in question found the setting a daunting one, then I would need to convey it to agents in a different and more commercial light. The first part of that was looking at the title. I thought it was perfect but perhaps only had true resonance after the reader had finished the book. My new title, which I shall keep under wraps for now, is much more enticing and tells the reader what to expect in simple terms from the outset, from the bookshelf. In following my gut, I know it’s the right move.
I re-shifted too the focus on my synopsis. Play down the setting, play up my heroine. What she’s capable of, what her fight is. What the true hook is. Think, think and think again. What am I selling? Agents are so busy and see so many manuscripts that they are rarely going to take the time to break down for you what needs to change. They will reject and move on so you must learn to read between the lines. Rejection, in forcing you to take a long hard look at what you’re selling, helps you see more clearly. You are getting a taste at last of the literary world as it repeatedly slams the door in your face. You want in? Yeah well you’re gonna have to work that book and that pitch like you never thought you would.
Silence can be a lesson in itself
Earlier this year, one agent asked me for exclusivity in considering my submission. A writer friend had introduced us personally and so I put all those fragile eggs in one basket and waited. And waited. And waited. Six months and still no response but after three, when I had dragged myself from the pity pit of panic, I took up my manuscript for a little read and immediately saw ways to improve it. So I wrote another draft, a better draft. Without floating in that limbo, I never would have done that. I took apart my book forensically. Wrote out new chapter cards, stuck them all up on my notice board without the chapter numbers and just looked at the plot laid out before me. I was like a miner striking gold when the contents of old chapter 29 became new chapter 3. When 53 short chapters became 27 more meaty ones. Again an exercise I would never have done without rejection. Comments of short chapters from agents, were now dealt with. I saw my book in a way I never did before I started submissions and it was better.
Without rejection, you won’t realise just how much your work means to you.
Want to find out how truly deeply invested you are in writing? Try some rejection. It’s the most telling signal as to how you will feel about your book and how hard you are willing to work it until someone somewhere finally says yes.
So get it out there, take the rejections, take their lessons, bury the ones that hurt and move on. There is much to be learnt and we as writers have nothing if not time on our hands. Remember you’re in it for the long game and perseverance is key. Me? I go back now into the abyss, with hopefully a stronger book, a better title, a sharper synopsis. More rejections will come, for that is the way, but I’ll keep learning from them and sharing the lessons learnt along the way.