To the Writers, To Make Much of Rejection Letters

Early in February, I sent a query to an agent.  It was my very first agent query, and I was insanely nervous/excited/nauseous.

This query business is not for wimps, y’all.  It is a roller coaster that rockets from ground level to the heights of breathless anticipation in seconds, and even more quickly plunges into the depths of despair.

Except it’s not really like a roller coaster, because a roller coaster does not spend most of its time slowing down to a dead crawl.  The process of seeking representation is 5% total screaming freakout, and 95% waiting.

In April, I got a very favorable response to my query.  After I spent the better part of a day yelling and jumping around the house, I sent the requested fifty pages.  And waited.  And waited.  And occasionally despaired, and occasionally screamed and jumped around the house.  But mostly waited.

Yesterday, I got a rejection email from the agent.  The small miracle of this experience has been that actually, I’m not in the depths of despair.  First off, this agent is a rock star in the very best sense of the word.  Her initial response managed to be both impeccably professional and yet encouraging, and her rejection letter offered more of the same.


In a nutshell, she said the book wasn’t the perfect fit for her, and that she was incredibly busy and being very selective about the projects she’s currently taking on.  But she thought my premise was “terrific” and my narrative voice “strong, compelling.”  She also wrote that she had no doubt I’d find a good home for my novel, and that she might regret not taking it on.

If that’s rejection, I’ll take it.

I’m offering this here as a reminder of some important things I’ve learned about publishing in my journey as a writer.  First, the publishing world is incredibly subjective, and that’s okay.  It’s actually a good thing.  I want the agent who’s in love with my book, who will be as committed to its success as I am.  If we’re not both in love with it, it’s not going to be the best it can be.

Second, agents work hard.  Really, really hard.  They are amazingly, mind-numbingly busy people and they deserve our respect, not only because of how hard they work but because of what they do–they put great books out there for the rest of us to read.

Third, rejection is part of this game.  Always.  I am determined to succeed as a writer–to publish books, to make a living doing what I love.  But even when I’ve landed a fantastic agent who’s found the perfect publisher for my book, there will still be rejection.  Some readers won’t like it.  Some will hate it, no matter how much work and love I pour into it.  And that’s okay, too.  Imagine the horror of a world in which everyone agreed on everything.

Fourth–and I think this is the great cardinal rule of working towards a career as a writer–successful writers never give up.  That doesn’t mean they don’t falter.  One of my publication fantasies (we all have them, right?) is to be the published author talking to an aspiring author who’s completely discouraged, as I’ve been so often.  I want to tell that imagined aspiring author about how entirely crushed I’ve felt at times–okay, a lot of times–as I’ve contemplated a writing career and wondered if I was doomed to failure.  But I’ve never given up.  And I’m not going to.

Sure, it would’ve been a dream come true to work with this agent.  But that rejection letter was a pretty close second.

2 thoughts on “To the Writers, To Make Much of Rejection Letters

  1. Well said! I’m so glad that your rejection email had encouragement. 🙂 Wonderful! And what a class act on the part of the agent to be so professional in her response.

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