No’s Job, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Rejection

     “Dear Author,
Thank you for your recent submission to XYZ Publishing Company. I regret to inform you that …”

Does this letter look familiar to you? If you’ve ever tried to submit a manuscript for publication, chances are you’ve gotten a response similar to this at some time in your writing career. I remember the first one I ever got. I was in college, and my professor had suggested that I submit the dummy that I had done for his literature class to his publisher. Finally- FINALLY- I would be a published author! And at such a young age!

I sent it in. I waited. After a week, every time I went to the mailbox I was sure that this would be the day I would get my SASE back with a contract in the mail. I began to think about changing my major from teaching to writing.

After a few more days (okay, six months), my SASE came back! I pulled out my manuscript dummy and… a tiny postcard that began, “Dear Author…” I was crushed. I cried. I sent it out again in a massive simultaneous submission to every publisher that did picture books.
I got a massive simultaneous rejection.

But I kept writing. I kept learning. I joined SCBWI. I went to conferences, joined a critique group, and took classes. I kept submitting, but I submitted smarter. (Turns out that some publishers only publish certain kinds of books! Who knew?)

I got a LOT more rejection letters.

But. While each rejection letter still felt like, well, a rejection, I noticed that after a while they changed. I was getting some letters that began, “Dear Ms. Van Slyke.” There would be a reference to my actual manuscript, like they had read it. And sometimes the editor would tell me why it wasn’t a good fit for them.

I started to look for an agent. And- oh, goody!- NEW rejection letters came pouring in!
I eventually did get an agent. Unfortunately, it was, shall we say, not a happy match. The rejection letters stopped coming to me. But, as I later learned, that was most likely because no manuscripts were going out. I came to the decision that an unproductive agent was worse than no agent, so we parted ways.

Fortunately, I did get another agent, and manuscripts began going out again. As proof, I started getting rejection letters again. By this time, though, either because my writing had improved or (more likely) my agent was matching them more closely to the right editor, the rejections were very specific. And they started coming with offers to look at more of my writing, or even to look at a manuscript again after a few changes.

Now, after a few sales, I’m still getting rejection letters. LOTS of rejection letters. But I look at them differently now. Instead of focusing on the “No,” I look for themes. Does a manuscript get rejected because it’s weak or because the publisher already has a pirate book on their list? Do I see several of the same comments on the same manuscript? Perhaps it’s time to try another revision based on that feedback.

Most of all, though, rejection letters mean that I’m doing my job: writing. Submitting. Revising. Submitting again. Writing new manuscripts.

Because sometimes instead of a no, there will be a “Yes.”

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14 Comments

Filed under Advice, Agents, Anxiety, Editing and Revising, Editor, Education, Panic, Patience, Publishers and Editors, Rejection, rejection and success, Uncategorized

14 responses to “No’s Job, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Rejection

  1. It’s so interesting to hear each person’s individual experience with the rejection battle. Sorry to hear about that first agent! How frustrating. I really relate to your journey from that naive, new-writer place of “I think I’ll get published tomorrow!” to the more realistic “I hope I get some great feedback so that I can make this thing even better.” 🙂

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  2. Great post, Rebecca. “[R]ejection letters mean that I’m doing my job: writing.” YES!

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  3. This is the hardest, hardest part of writing, if you do want to be published someday. I just got another “no” — a really good “no” — last week, and it took about 24 hours to acknowledge just how good a “no” it was. Now I am working hard to revise and resubmit. It’s exhausting, it’s never-ending, but it’s not always just a “no” and that’s what keeps you going.

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  4. leandrajwallace

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on rejection. As I’m querying right now, it’s definitely helpful to hear other writers talk about it, and overcoming it.

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  5. Lindsey Lane

    Well done, Rebecca. Way to shift your perspective.

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  6. Terrific post, Rebecca. I wrote and submitted plays for years before I turned to novels, and that slowly-building trickle of personalized rejections definitely gave me heart as I worked on my craft.

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    • Rebecca Van Slyke

      Every project, whether it ever sees publication or not, is a step on the road to where we are striving to be, isn’t it?

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  7. Another writer and I just had this very conversation! While, I’m still in the rejection stage, I have learned the value of “cheerleaders,” or in my case, a couple trusted writer friends. We critique each others’ work and press each other to keep submitting.

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  8. Reblogged this on allbookedupnmt and commented:
    Great reminder for frustrated writers!

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  9. Rejection is definitely part of the process and I think the sooner we start to view it this way, the better. Otherwise it would be WAY too discouraging.

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  10. Nice post, Rebecca.
    “…sometimes instead of a no, there will be a “Yes.”
    Indeed! Rejection is part of this crazy-making business. And, sometimes, rejection has more to do with the publisher’s catalog or list, than the quality of our writing. Write, revise, submit, repeat.

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  11. Autumn

    Rebecca, love: “look for themes.” That is something I’ve been doing with feedback (or trying).

    I also wanted to say “congrats!” on the success you have had – so deserved. 🙂

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