I’ve been helping a writer find an agent or publisher for his novel. He’s received several rejections, so I’ve been giving rejection a lot of thought. None of us like rejection, of course, and since I edited the novel for this writer, I feel the rejection as much as he does.
But having been at the other end of the query letter – or in my case, the other end of an application to write for Your Information Center – I’ve rejected as much as I’ve been rejected. For me, telling an eager writer “no” is as difficult as receiving a rejection from another editor. I certainly don’t want to dash a writer’s dream, but not every writer is a good fit with Your Information Center and not every manuscript is the right story for a publisher. A rejection of a manuscript isn’t a rejection of the writer as a person, and it isn’t necessarily an agent or editor saying, “Your work stinks!”
Unfortunately, I’ve encountered more bad writers than any of us would like to believe exist, but good – even great – manuscripts are rejected every day for any number of reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of writing. Every publisher can publish a finite number of books each year, and every agent can represent a finite number of clients. They must be selective and choose only the projects they expect to be most profitable for them.
Agents and publishers have preferences, and those preferences are subjective. Your horror story might be a fantastic tale, but if you submit it to someone who isn’t a fan of horror, she probably won’t like it.
You can avoid some rejection by being as selective about the agents and editors you query as the agents and editors are about the manuscripts they accept. Submitting your horror manuscript to agents who represent similar books will improve the odds the agents will like your book. Researching the markets will take time but will reduce the number of rejections you receive.
However, unless you are a rare writer indeed, you will still get rejections. Several years ago, I took a novel writing class from Lary Crews. I remember what he said about finding an agent: Don’t think there is a problem with your manuscript until you’ve been rejected by 50 agents. After 50 rejections, then consider revisions.
Of course, if you are fortunate enough to get feedback on your rejections, evaluate the comments and make revisions if you find the feedback valuable. As the author you have to decide whether you want to change your story.
My novel Stroke of Luck was rejected repeatedly by agents and editors with comments that were some variation of the theme a romance novel can’t have a handicapped heroine. At a writers conference, I had an appointment with an editor to pitch my book. She looked at me – sitting in my electric wheelchair – and said, “No one wants to read about a cripple.”
After that I put the manuscript in a drawer and decided this book was not going to be published. I couldn’t revise the book to get rid of the handicapped heroine – the whole story was based on her journey to recover from a stroke and become independent, and learning along the way that she was still capable of loving and being loved. If that story wasn’t publishable, maybe it had served its purpose as writing it has been cathartic for me.
Many months later, a friend e-mailed me a link to an electronic publisher looking for manuscripts featuring handicapped main characters. I submitted Stroke of Luck, and the e-book was published six months later. It didn’t become a bestseller, and I didn’t become rich and famous. But the book got good reviews and nice comments from readers – some handicapped themselves – who appreciated reading about a less-than-perfect heroine.
I’m thrilled the book was published and is still available. However, if it had never been published, I wouldn’t regret writing the story I did and refusing to change the storyline. If the criticism had been different – the manuscript was too wordy, the characters were one-dimensional, there was too little or too much dialogue – I probably would have taken the suggestions.
In fact, my client and I are discussing revisions of his manuscript based on feedback from a publisher. I think we can make a few changes that will improve the story, and maybe soon I’ll be reporting that he has an agent or a publishing contract.
Salesmen know to expect a certain number of rejections before they make a sale. Every “no” is just one step closer to a “yes.” As writers, we should also expect a certain number of rejections before our work is accepted. Every “no” is just one step closer to a “yes.”
Related Post: Rejection: Your baby is ugly!