How to Handle a Rejection Letter: Becoming an Author
When I first started getting into the writing industry, I had wide eyes and high hopes. I’d done plenty of research; I knew the ropes and the risks and had my dreams set on becoming one of the many success stories I’d read about online.
I got my first rejection letter and didn’t let it bother me—even the best authors in history were rejected! Then I got my second, and my third, and then my fourth. Slowly, my shoulders began to slump, my smile became a little more forced, and before I knew it, I didn’t even want to check my email anymore.
Writing is an art form as much as it is a form of entertainment. It is personal and defining—a true representation of our thoughts and emotions; some authors can pump out three books a year, others—like myself—dedicate months and even years to one novel. So, when you put yourself out there and present your work to agents, hoping with the highest of hopes that someone will take a chance on you, it can be devastating to be told “No thanks”.
So … How does a dedicated author handle the dreaded rejection letter?
The first thing you need to do when it comes to rejection is face reality; Not everyone is going to like what you write, it’s just that simple. But disliking your story is not a direct statement on your skill or ability as an author.
Think of it this way; do you like every single book you pick up at the library? Have you enjoyed every single novel your Kindle recommended? No, absolutely not. I overlook hundreds of books when I’m searching the iBooks store on my phone, it isn’t because I think those books are written poorly, it’s because I’m simply not interested in the genre or the storyline. The same can be said for agents.
Honestly, agents are more particular because they’re not just looking for a book to enjoy for themselves, they’re looking for a book they can sell to others. Sometimes you’ll have a great story that blows your mind away but its yet another YA trilogy about a teenage girl overthrowing her corrupt government. We don’t need any more of those books—at least I don’t. Or maybe your story is good but you’re querying the wrong agent.
Do you have a perfectly polished space opera manuscript featuring an incestuous romance? I don’t think an agent who represents Christian contemporary novels is the right choice for you. Are you trying to push for biracial romance in action thrillers? Maybe you should find an agent who’s actively seeking #OWNVoice writers. Sometimes it isn’t about your skill but about the industry itself. Sending a query letter is not like sending a job application, you won’t be working at Arby’s for the summer, you’ll be partnering with someone for life. Like a business marriage! It pays to be meticulous and patient about this.
Now, on the other hand, sometimes a rejection letter is because of your writing or your ability as an author. I can say this as someone who reviews books regularly, I receive tons of queries that are written as poorly as the books they represent. If you get rejected by one agent who says your writing isn’t strong enough, fine, that’s only one person’s take. I can say there are very few best-selling authors who have blown me away with their verbiage. I’m a picky reader.
But if you’re getting rejected by two dozen agents who are all saying your writing isn’t strong enough, maybe you should take a step back and have a serious look at your work and where you can improve. You don’t have to scrap everything and start all over; it could be as simple as having a second pair of eyes look at your story; maybe you never realized how annoying one of your characters is, maybe that love triangle wasn’t as good of an idea as you initially thought. Never underestimate the value of a second opinion.
I know—honestly, I do—how devastating and discouraging a rejection letter can be. I know how discouraging dozens of rejection letters can be, but you know what every successful author has in common? No matter the genre they write, no matter what connections they might have had, every successful writer has persistence. If you’re passionate enough, persistent enough, and you dedicate your work to Christ, then you will find good success [Proverbs 16:3].
As a Christian first and an author second, my advice always comes from a faith-filled perspective. Never be afraid to come to God for comfort when you are faced with rejection and never be afraid to ask Him for help. All of your ideas come from God anyway, He knows exactly what your story needs to get the attention it deserves. Be persistent and always remember, God wouldn’t have given you this dream if He didn’t intend to carry it to pass [Isaiah 55:10-12].