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How to Handle Query Letter Rejection: 6 Suggestions

November 12, 2014

not personal
When I started querying my historical mystery to literary agents, I knew to expect rejection.

It’s practically a Writers Rite of Passage, I told myself. Don’t you remember reading ‘legends’ of ‘famous authors’ framing their first rejection letters and putting in on the wall?

Then I got my first one.

Boy, did that sting.

Of course, this being the modern era, it didn’t come as a ‘letter’ but as an email. A ‘form email’. (It says right in the email: this is a form email.)

Sorry but this is not what I am looking for. Good luck, best wishes, sayonara.

The email is kind. No one is saying YOU SUCK, YOUR NOVEL SUCKS, THE WHOLE IDEA SUCKS.

They are polite and encouraging. TRY SOMEWHERE ELSE, M’K?

But still my first reaction was: noooooooooooo.

And then, a torrent: How could they not see the brilliance of my idea? How could they not love it as I love it? What the heck was wrong with them? Or: What the heck was wrong with me? How could they not like me? Wasn’t I a good writer? Why didn’t they like meeeee?

Which leads me to my first suggestion:

1. DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY

While getting over that first sting, I had to remind myself: The publishing industry is a business. Decisions around whether to accept a manuscript boil down to business decisions. It is not a personal attack. My plan just does not fit with their plan. And these plans are very individual to each specific literary agent.

It is nothing personal.

2. THAT BEING SAID, IT’S OK TO FEEL THE FEELS

Of course, rejection causes a reaction. My novel is a passion project. I devoted a lot of time, energy and thought into it. I want it to be lovingly embraced by everyone. When it isn’t, I’m going to feel the feels. I’ll be a little sad. This is OK.

3. SELF EXAMINATION

But at some point I need to move past ‘the sads ‘and get a little critical. I need to take a closer look at my query letter, my novel excerpts, my one page synopsis, etc so that I can better answer the question: why was my submission rejected? Of course, it may only be because its not a good match for that particular agent (it’s a business, remember?). But also: did I follow the submission guidelines correctly? Were there any typos? Does my query letter need work? Is there any way I can improve upon it? Is there any course I can take or examples on line that I can use to improve my submissions?

4. POLISH AS NEEDED

If things need fixing, fix ’em.

5. SUPPORT YOURSELF

However, a word of caution! Do not self examine your work into oblivion! I find this to be a fine line but it is oh so necessary. I have no intention of re-inventing my work to cater to every opinion or sample out there! At some point, a line must be drawn in the sand where I say: I am not changing anything (else). I trust my own writer judgement. I like this the way it is.

Be discerning about ‘advice’. Carefully consider it and reject it as needed.

Support yourself and your vision.

6. GET BACK INTO THE FRAY!

I went to a writer’s workshop in May given by the fabulous Brian Henry on ‘How to Get Published’ and he said something that still sticks with me. He said:

You need 2 of these 3 things to get published:

A GOOD BOOK. LUCK. PERSISTENCE.

Now, a good book is not that easy to quantify. It seems like it should be straightforward. But I can go on goodreads and cite numerous examples of one star vs four star reviews for the same book! Not everyone likes the same things. Not everyone agrees on ‘good’. (Though I’ll bet more people agree on ‘bad’–but that’s a topic for another blog post).

So I can’t really control who sees my book as ‘good’. If I think it’s good, maybe others will think it’s good? But still, the entire premise is a bit whishy-washy.

As to luck, pffft. I can’t control that either. It happens or it doesn’t.

But what I can control? PERSISTENCE.

I can step up to the computer with all the verve of a baseball slugger stepping up to the plate, bases loaded, bottom of the ninth.

I can DO this.

I can submit somewhere else. I can keep trying. I can keep stepping up to the plate, and one of these times, it’s gonna be a home run!

So, in summary, don’t get too distracted by rejections.

Keep your eye on the ball. Keep swinging!

One comment

  1. Just curious – why are you looking for an agent?

    Wayne



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