The Sharp Sting of Rejection
Oh, rejections. They slowly chip away at your self-confidence, and we writers pursuing publication must endure a lot of rejection. Is it any wonder people talk about the fragile writer ego? Hey, my ego wasn’t that fragile at first, but after hundreds (or maybe at this point thousands) of rejections, well… yeah, it’s a bit threadbare.
As much as they hurt, and as much we’d like to delete them from our memories and our inboxes, rejections can be useful. For querying writers, your rejections might be telling you something. Something important.
The 4 Types of Query Rejections
If you’re querying a book to agents or indie publishers, you know to expect rejections. It’s an unfortunate part of the game, until someone figures out a better way. But did you know there are different types of rejections?
- Form rejection: A form letter with no personal feedback.
- No response: Maddening, I know, but some agents/publishers just don’t have time/energy to respond to queries that don’t interest them. Often it will say on the agency website something like, “if you don’t receive a response after three months, please assume we have passed on your project.”
- Personal rejection: A rejection with a little piece of feedback specific to your book. Usually it comes in the form of “I liked _____, but ______.” For example, “I liked the premise of a teenager being possessed by a ghost, but I didn’t find myself connecting with the voice.”
- “Send me your next” rejection: This may still come as a form letter, but it will say that you should feel free to query again with a different project. Agents aren’t saying that just to be nice either; if they say you should query again, it means they saw something they liked in your writing and want to keep the door cracked open for you.
Why Should You Keep Track of Query Rejections?
Obviously you should keep track so you don’t end up re-querying an agent who has already rejected you (embarrassing!) But you should also keep track of what type of rejection you received.
Why? Because if you are getting mostly form rejections and no responses, you might need to take another look at your query letter and/or first pages. Maybe some revision is in order; maybe you should take a query letter workshop class.
If, on the other hand, you are getting some personal and “send me your next” query rejections, that’s a great sign! Take the feedback you’re getting into account. It may be subjective (like “I didn’t connect to the voice”), and therefore there’s not much you can do, but if there’s something they suggest that you can change (and you want to), consider making that revision. Then keep querying! You’re likely getting close to some manuscript requests.
And be sure to note the agents who want to see your next project. As much as you hate to think you might be back in the querying trenches with another project… it could happen. Writers have to part ways from their agents for many reasons and find themselves back to query square one.
Querying is VERY hard, and it’s especially hard right now in the COVID world. Editors are accepting fewer submissions which means agents are taking on fewer clients. I sent out 90 queries before getting an offer of representation, and I know other authors who sent over a hundred queries before signing with an agent and getting a book deal. You have to query the right agent at the right time with the right project. Sometimes it really is a numbers game.
That being said, if you are getting nothing but form rejections and no response, take a good, hard look at your submission package (query letter and first 10 pages). Consider asking for feedback from your writing group or paying for a one-on-one session with an agent.
How can you tell if a rejection is a form letter?
Sounds silly, but it can be hard to tell if a rejection is a form letter or if it contains personal feedback. The rule of thumb is, if it doesn’t contain anything specific to your book or your query, it’s probably a form letter.
Keep in mind that the same agent might have several different form letters, depending on what they thought of your query. They might have one for “I didn’t connect with the voice,” and another for “This has potential but isn’t right for my list at this time.” If there’s nothing specific to your book, it’s probably a form, but you still might be able to eke out a little generic feedback, even from a form.
Also, agents will sometimes send a form letter but tack on a little personal feedback at the beginning or end. That’s great! Seriously. If they are taking any time at all to give you something specific, it means your query stood out and you’re doing something right.
Need some examples? I combed through my old emails and found a bunch of my own query rejections — form rejections, personal rejections (some more painful than others), and rejections I’m still not quite sure what to make of them. This Rejection Collection (Real-life Query Rejections: Form, Personal, and More!) is available for paid subscribers of my email newsletter.
Feeling Dejected? Chin up!
The writing life is filled with rejection. And, unfortunately, it doesn’t stop once you get an agent. So be sure to celebrate the small victories: a personal rejection, a partial request, a “like” from an agent during a Twitter pitch contest. Even finishing a book-length project is major cause for celebration.
And remember, it only takes one agent, it only takes one “yes” in a sea of “nos.” The people who have success in this business are often the ones who refuse to give up.
What about you? What’s the most encouraging rejection you’ve ever received?