Facing rejection: how to keep writing

How to Deal with Rejection as an Author

I’ve seen one too many posts from authors/aspiring authors worrying about getting ‘rejection letters’ from agents and wanted to share some advice.

Yes, I’m a professional book editor and author coach for a living but I’m also a writer too and I’ve had rejection over the years. And so, have just a little wisdom to share – I hope it helps!

1. If you are planning to submit to agents (or publishing houses direct), be prepared that you can wait anything from one day to several years. Not every agent will reply (most have an auto-respond to acknowledge receipt but won’t always send a follow up if they want to work with you or not. So, have patience.

2. ‘Rejection’ is going to happen, just accept it as fact and it’ll sting less when it does. Most big sales companies work on an around 40% yes-rate and guess what, you only need one yes! And there is no limit to how many queries you can send out so keep pitching, adjusting your query, getting feedback, and pitching again. Worth considering:

  • Have you edited and proofread it?
  • Have you had beta readers give you feedback?
  • Is the sample formatted (most agencies will direct you on font size and style, etc.)
  • Have you followed the submission guidelines to the letter?
  • Could your email query and synopsis use an update if you’ve had a few rejections?
  • Are you pitching the absolute best thing you’ve written? (It’s like on X-Factor when they are about to get rejected and the person tries to promise they will ‘step it up and give it my all if you put me through’ – why weren’t you giving it your all the first take. Take your time, don’t rush to pitch, get it right! And then if it’s not working, get some feedback and pitch again.)

3. I don’t like the word ‘rejection’ here. You are not being rejected, your book is not being rejected. It doesn’t mean it is terrible and you certainly shouldn’t give up (unless you want to do that, of course, but even then just give up the pitching and write for the enjoyment of it!). 

Your manuscript is being passed on by one agent and there are so many reasons they may do this:

  • the agent didn’t feel strongly enough about the writing
  • they don’t feel they can market that genre in the current climate
  • they didn’t connect with the characters
  • they already have a similar book coming out soon
  • your themes were big last year (vampires, witches, dragons, etc.)

4. The agent doesn’t just choose you, you need to choose THEM too! It’s important to find the right agent or publishing house to support you and your book. So, track them down on Twitter, Google them, check out their other books, get a feel if they will be a good fit for you as an author and for your book.

5. You likely wouldn’t marry the first person you ever dated, right? So why feel devastated that the first couple of agents you pitch to didn’t say yes? It’s worth the wait! 🙂

6. Publishing agencies can get, for example, 80,000 submission in a year and then each agent within that agency may only take on 1-2 new authors in that year. Remember they have existing authors who are publishing new books too. So, you need to be sending your best work.

7. This year during lockdown and even when it ends, it is like no other year in publishing. Some agents closed their books early before the festive season at the end of last year, a few are delaying opening them again, others are only committing to their existing authors, some are working as normal. None of us know what this year and the next few years will look like for authors and the industry.

It looks like there are going to be an influx of new aspiring authors who decided to use lockdown to write their first book! Now, that could mean there is more competition or it could mean there’s just a larger pile of unpolished manuscripts from inexperienced writers so yours will stand out even more! I think that the process may take longer to get a response but don’t give up hope or delay pitching – it only gives those inexperienced authors more time to catch up with you!

8. If you are taking your writing seriously and want to be a career author then you’ve got some work to do beyond the writing part! So many authors try to argue that if their book is strong enough then that should be enough.

The reality is that if your book is fantastic and the agent loves it, they may still then be deciding between you and another writer who has an equally fantastic book. So, now they are looking at other factors. So, how can you stand out? Well, what else is in your author resume? Here are some tips:

  1. Build your social media following. Not only does this show you are preparing to be a career author and have an understanding of book marketing, but it can also potentially count when they are considering your royalties. The bigger the audience you already have, the less work they need to do.
  2. This might be your first novel you are pitching but have you publishing or pitched anything else to establish yourself? Submit pieces to writing magazines, write flash fiction and short stories and get them out there!
  3. Enter writing competitions! This will look great on your author bio. Some are free, some have a small fee to enter. Some of them just publish your work but others have cash prizes which you could put towards some of the expenses like creating an author website, marketing costs, even professional editing before you submit. 

9. Someone once told me that even if there is only a 1% chance of success, it’s still better than the 100% chance of failure if you don’t even try!

10. I mentioned in point one that it can take time to get published. That’s not always the case – one of my clients got offered a contract after just a few weeks of pitching but there are always exceptions to every rule. However, I want to be honest with you and let you know that there is a lot of waiting around as an author. You need to have – or learn – patience!

Because waiting for a response from agents isn’t the only waiting you’ll have. If you get an agent first then there is another wait while they pitch your book to multiple publishing houses and rejection can happen in this stage too. Even after your first book publication, if there aren’t enough sales then the contract can be ended – more rejection! Now before you get too depressed, you do have some control over elements of each stage and one rejection doesn’t stop you moving to a new/better agent and you next book having huge sales and success. Being an author requires a thick skin.

It’s part of the process and personally, for me it makes me work harder, want it more, fight for my stories, and most importantly, it makes me look more critically at what I’ve written. There will be bumps in the road, so be prepared for them and keep writing!

10. I highly recommend making yourself a kindness box to open whenever you get a ‘no’. It may sound silly but it works and creatives deserve kindness. This can be whatever you want!  Mine currently has chocolate, couple of books, vouchers for new books (yah!), hand-written notes to myself, printed screenshots of kind things people have texted or messaged me, printed copies of reviews from clients, and other nice things.

Any questions, follow me on Instagram and send me a quick DM. I’ll try my best to respond to them all as soon as I can.

Kirsten 📚


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