Vicki's Book News and Articles

Craft: How to Cope With Rejection

Written by Vicki Hinze

On December 28, 2010

Vicki Hinze © 2003-2011

First, let’s set the record straight. We don’t want to just cope with rejection. We want to cope with it constructively. Allowing it to shove us into a mental pit of despair isn’t healthy and we don’t want that to be part of our program. So let’s resolve first and foremost to devote our energy to finding a way to cope constructively with rejection.

To do that, we need information. Back-up. Intel from the front lines, if you will. That’s what I want to share with you now in the form of some, I hope, valuable insights.

You are not alone; rejection is a normal part of life for writers. At times all writers find rejections overwhelming. Unfortunately it is only the rare exception that any writer avoids them. I know thousands of writers, but only two who have never been rejected. I know none who haven’t been rejected after they’ve sold books. So you’re in great company. Believe it, because it’s fact.

Give yourself a set time to emotionally react to a rejection letter. You had great hopes for the book and now a subjective editor/agent has dashed them. You need to release your frustration and disbelief. Express your indignant self until you get a grip on your emotions. I allow myself five minutes. No more, and no less. Early on, I thought I needed longer. Now, five minutes is stretching it for the time I allot for rejection reaction. Honestly, a rejection letter isn’t worth more of your energy than that. Still, the human being in you needs to react emotionally, so do it.

Calm again. After you’ve calmed down, reread the letter. If anything is disclosed in it that you feel adds value to your book, then incorporate it. If not, file the letter in a folder, and forget it. I know one writer who wallpapered a bathroom in her office with rejection letters. Every time she went in there, she grew more and more resolved to sell and sell big. She has. It’s taken several years, but she’s now making the NYT extended bestseller list. She used the rejection letters as motivation. Constructively.

Develop a realistic attitude. It isn’t all about you. It isn’t all about your book. Very often rejections have nothing to do with the work. More often than you’d think, rejections are a result of readers’ current buying patterns, of market conditions, or a particular agent/editor’s sphere of expertise—which well might be outside the sphere in which your novel falls.

The point? Many works are rejected by editors and agents due to influences that are totally outside the quality of the work.

Rejections without Comments. Very often authors are irked because the agent/editor doesn’t share his/her rationale for rejecting the work. Some writers are irked to the point that they’re tempted to contact the editor/agent and ask why. In a word, don’t. Like editors, agents are busy and overworked. They have a set number of hours in a day to do their jobs. They have a responsibility to the authors they already represent to take care of their needs first. That includes a lot of conversations with editors, art directors, marketing reps, legal departments. They review contracts, negotiate; make contact with multimedia persons who might find a project they have of interest. They have a lot to do and never enough time to do it. That means newcomers asking for consideration get a small slice of whatever time the agent has left uncommitted. This is why responses take time, and a large part of why many agents don’t offer comments. That’s frustrating for the writer. How could it not be? Crawl inside the writer’s mind and what you see is this: Your work (and not you personally, which is an important distinction for you to understand) is being rejected and you have no idea why it’s being rejected. To deal with this frustration constructively, what you need is a mindset reality check. Not friendly, but fair and also, unfortunately, fact.

An agent who is not already representing you owes you nothing—including comments. Personal comments are a huge demand on an agent/editor’s time and most simply don’t have that time to give you. The agent doesn’t work for you. This is why when an agent/editor reviews your proposal–even if they later reject it–you should feel gratitude. They have given you a gift of their time. In case you haven’t slowed down long enough to put this into its proper perspective, their time directly impacts their earnings so they must use it wisely. Even more importantly, like your time, their time is an actual piece of their life.

The urge to ask for comments, or to include a request for them in your submission letter, is common, but resist. To specifically ask for comments would be an insult, you making a demand on an agent/editor that you have no right to make. Now if that agent/editor is gracious enough to gift you with comments–even if they’re negative–that warrants gratitude. They are not obligated to tell you anything except whether or not their interested in representing your work.

Depend on other writers to help you pinpoint challenges, if any, in your work. If you have a critique group, great. But most effective is to work with a one-on-one partner who is about where you are, or a rung or two higher, on the writing ladder. One who can pinpoint and be constructively specific about the elements you would benefit by addressing. You cannot get this from family members or friends.

Unless they too write, family and friends read like readers. That can be beneficial, but it can’t give you the insights you need into structure and other novel elements. For that, you need another writer. Writers read like writers. At times, this is a curse because reading for entertainment is pretty much shot. The writing reader reads and does a critical analysis as they read. It goes with the territory and it’s a rare book that allows the writer to escape that. But that critical analysis is what you’re after.

Talk to your existing critique groups. Tell them what you need from them. If they can provide it, great. If not, seek out another writer who can give you what you need. Be prepared to give them what they need, too. Give and take. Harmony and balance. No one-sided situations work well long-term. There are a lot of places to find critique partners on the net. You need only seek.

Be sane about rejections. They are and will be a part of your life as long as you’re a writer. Your faith in your work must remain steadfast. That faith is what carries you until you find the right agent/editor for you. It’s hard, no doubt about it. But no rejection letter should have the power to generate doubt in yourself or in your work. It only has that power if you give it to it.

I said, “the right agent for you.” That’s what is most important. Too often, authors want a powerhouse agent. Doesn’t matter if that agent is enthused, excited, or really has faith in that writer. S/he is a powerhouse in the industry and that’s all that matters.

Well, it isn’t. Being unagented is preferable to having the wrong agent for you. Be persnickety in your submission choices. The relationship between author and agent is much like a marriage. You need to be in sync. To be invested. To know the desired path and the plan for journeying down it.

These are not decisions to be made lightly or to be made simply because an agent offers representation. That agent is going to represent you to the world, and you need to feel comfortable with that representation. See what I mean?

Personally, I love agents who are part-shark, part-dove, and all brilliant with great personalities. Ones who don’t cringe when I send in a synopsis that has a comment like: “I’m not sure what happens here. Goes this way or that,” and s/he trusts me that it will be logical and fit in until I write the book and find out which way it goes. Ones whose opinion I respect and admire and who respects my opinions.

I’m telling you this because authors too often are so eager to be represented that they overlook nailing down what they want/need in an agent. They just want someone to agree to take them on. If that’s where your level of frustration currently resides, please, please, let me know. We need to talk through this, because that kind of mindset can lead you into making choices that hurt you and can continue to hurt you for years to come.

Rejections are just a blip on your big screen. Remember that this frustration and the agent search are both just blips. It doesn’t feel that way, but it truly is exactly that. Continue to grow, to learn your craft, to hone your skills. Find that one-on-one partner and write your heart out, never for a moment forgetting that your steadfast faith in your work will sustain you until the blips are history and the frustration a memory.

Rejection can be overwhelming. It can be hard to handle. It can test the patience, try the nerves, and make you nuts. But it can only do those things if you, the writer, allow it to do them. You choose.

You can allow rejection to diminish your faith, depress the spit out of you, win in convincing you that writing is a pipe dream and you don’t deserve to go for it. You can do any or all of that. Or you can accept the realities offered you here about rejection, react to it constructively, and write anyway.

That’s what I chose to do. It took six years of writing. Fifteen complete novels and I have no idea how many proposals. Then I sold a book. I’ve been rejected many, many times since then. But I’ve also gotten “the calls” and been accepted fifteen times (so far!). I made my choice. You must make yours.

Think about it. A rejection letter is simply an invitation to submit elsewhere.

And aren’t invitations always full of possibilities?


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