No one enjoys getting turned down. Getting rejected sucks. But it’s part of the publishing world. And if you’re ever going to move from amateur hour to the big kid’s table, getting rejected is part of the package. The problem, though, is that we’ve been trained to think of it as the worst possible thing that has ever happened in the history of ever. We’ve been trained to assume this means whatever we did was worthless, and all that work we put into that thing amounts to squat. But that’s not true. It’s hard to shake the horrible feeling of being turned away, sure, but that’s the life of an author.
So how do you go from wanting to give up on your dream entirely to shrugging your shoulders and pressing forward?
Honestly? Years and years of practice. I didn’t start off taking an empty inbox with a grain of salt. I cried, I whined, and I wanted to give up. I didn’t wake up one day with thick skin, and even now I’m not sure that’s what I would call it. But each time it really does get a little better because my story gets a little bit better too. The secret ingredient was my shift in perspective.
But how can you make sure you don't get rejected in the first place and not have to deal with this pesky emotion? Because let's be honest, that's why you really came here. Yes, you wanted to know how to deal with rejection, but what you were really hoping for was a way to make sure it doesn't happen at all, right? That would be the best scenario, wouldn't it? Well then, let's start with one of the biggest reasons that authors have their manuscripts rejected.
It is, simply put, because they’re being sent to the wrong agents and publishers. While this is mostly a failure in the research department, a rejection from the wrong agent doesn’t mean that they thought your story is trash. It’s just that your high fantasy wasn’t what that person (who was actually looking for sci-fi) wanted to read right now. In fact, if you’re sending your manuscript to the right people, you should be getting some sort of positive response about 70-80% of the time, and no, that wasn’t a typo. It does sound a tad absurd at first, especially with how high that number is, but with a dash of investigation, you should be fine.
Another fact that most authors don’t consider is the market. You might think you have the world’s best vampire romance, and maybe you do, but it doesn’t matter if the market isn’t ready for it. Now please don’t confuse that with the idea that you should write to market because that is wild. But it’s another part of the research that comes into play after you write and polish and edit your manuscript. It’s as mandatory as every other piece of the publishing puzzle.
Listen, the shift was hard. I had to adjust my whole mindset on what worked and what was doomed from the start. Do I enjoy getting an idea that I know won't be ready for a decade, (maybe longer!) sometimes? Absolutely not, but being honest with yourself about the amount of work you put into your craft and the research surrounding it is just as important as the story itself.
No part of it was fun. I took tons of advice and studied wish lists every single night (something I still do to this day!) to make sure I had my finger on the pulse of the industry. As much as I want to write certain stories, I don’t believe in doing work for nothing. I may outline and plot, but I don’t write a whole manuscript of something I can’t query for five years. But because of that, I’ve learned that I am more passionate about what I do shop around. I am excited to get feedback returned from beta readers and editors. I am thrilled to see notes in my inbox. But I still don’t like to see that rejection e-mail. I’m never going to, but now I can step back and remember that a whole mess of things go into that process and none of it amounts to a lack of ability on my part. And just because they didn’t like this manuscript doesn’t mean if they’re asking for something else I have on my backlist I can’t send them that instead.
Just keep your chin up. And just remember, networking and community are way more important than those rejections any day.