Publishing Essentials: Handling Rejection

Publishing is not for the faint of heart—rejection is reality of the business. We’ve looked at how to effectively manage criticism as a writer, and now I’d like to take a closer look at how to handle rejection in the publishing process.

Personally, I’m not a fan of the word “rejection” in this context. When agents or editors decline a project, it’s not that they just aren’t that into you, and more like a non-acceptance of a particular work for a broad range of reasons.

The important thing to understand about rejection in publishing is that it isn’t personal. You may put yourself in your manuscript—your blood, sweat, tears, heart, soul, and sanity—but industry professionals approach the work from the perspective of the writing only, separate from the writer.

When a publishing professional passes on a project, it is about that one piece only, in no way is a reflection on you as a writer, and is almost entirely subjective. Yes, there are some objective concerns with publication: a standard of writing, genre conventions, manuscript length, and, of course, content. But beyond that, the comments you’ll receive in a pass on your work are most often in reference to individual tastes and interests.

Many famous writers, including Stephen King (On Writing), talk about collecting their rejections from agents and editors, and pinning them to their analog or digital bulletin boards as reminders to keep working on their craft and continue to put themselves out there. Passes from a publishing professional can be a galvanizing force for your writing, if you let them.

Consider this: Some of the biggest books to ever hit shelves were largely rejected by agents and editors before finding the right publishing home. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter was passed over by twelve houses before being accepted by Bloomsbury UK (with a very modest advance). John Grisham’s A Till To Kill (1988), was largely “rejected” by publishers, and didn’t find broad readership until the movie of his book, The Firm, starring Tom Cruise, came out in 1991. James Patterson’s The Thomas Berryman Number, the first in his Alex Cross series (worth millions), was passed on by thirty-one publishers. And the list goes on.

The point here? ALL writers face rejection in publishing. And you are in good company with some of the greatest authors and most successful books of all time. So stay with it. Don’t give up. Believe in your work. And be kind to yourself. You only need one agent and one editor to recognize your talent. And the rest? Who needs ‘em. Many huge authors have been plucked from the slush pile.

As agents and editors, we jump through similar hoops, and suffer the same disappointments on submission when a bid or auction doesn’t go our way. We are all in the same boat. We empathize. We understand. And we are here for you.

Give yourself the best chance of getting noticed by an agent or editor with a winning query letter workshopped with one of our professionals. Or if you need one-on-one advice, our coaches would be happy to answer any of your questions about the publishing process.

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