Rejections are subjective. I know that. I only have to think about books I loved that a friend didn’t like or one they loved that I didn’t like. We all have our own tastes and even moods. But when our manuscript is rejected it often doesn’t feel subjective. We often feel as if we’ve failed.
When those feelings strike me, I have to remember how many published books I read where the story didn’t grab me. Or something turned me off. And these books were loved by an editor willing to spend a lot of time with the manuscript. They’ve been supported by a publishing company as a whole. So if published books can fail an individual, why I am I surprised when my own unpublished manuscript does?
At first page and roundtable critique sessions, I’ve seen how editors and agents just haven’t connected with the writing of a specific piece. One person might “get it” and the others not. Or the panel is split on whether they’d read on.
Ever had rejections that said, “I just didn’t love it enough.”? I have. Some agents/editors have told me things to work on; others haven’t. They are a reminder that I need to keep trying. If you’re getting personal rejections, keep on.
But what if you aren’t getting any personal rejections? That means it’s time to step back and look at your writing.
Many years ago at the SCBWI LA Conference–2009 to be exact–Editor Wendy Loggia shared “seven 7 reasons why your manuscript is declined.” They included:
- nice writing, but no story
- too similar to something else she’d edited or in the market place
- unclear who the audience would be
- can’t connect to the voice
- book submitted too early before it was ready
- project would not stand out on the house list
- the author is difficult to deal with (Yes, many editors and agents check your social media.)
What she concluded with was “If I can’t give a book my heart and soul, I won’t acquire it.” But note how many of the reasons above are something we have control over: a good story, a clear audience, a professional manuscript, a good attitude.
Here are some tips garnered from a variety of agents and editors that deal with what we control:
- put your best foot forward – fix those typos and grammar errors
- have a good hook
- show, don’t tell
- Editor Nick Thomas says, “Don’t make the first chapter too long.”
- have an intimacy with your characters
- remember cliffhangers make good chapter endings
- don’t write to trends
- be passionate about your project
- got voice? “Always it’s the voice that gets me… The way it makes me feel,” says Editor Christy Ottaviano.
- make sure your plot is solid
- share big truths
- provide opportunity for emotional engagement
And for the querying itself:
- research the agent(s) you are querying
- follow submission instructions
- get the agent or editor’s name right
- write a good query/cover letter
- provide good comp titles – this is one of my weaknesses
- keep your letter to one page
Also, don’t forget that you aren’t alone in getting rejections.
“At times the rejections did get to me, but the will to write always triumphed over the disappointment of rejection.” – Karen Hesse
Shannon Hale said, “I’ve published 20+ books, the last 10 or so of which have all been best sellers, and I still get rejections. All the time.”
“Rejection isn’t a sign of failure. Rejection is a reminder that there’s always room for improvement.” – Ana Hart
Kathryn Stockett said, “I can’t tell you how to succeed. But I can tell you how not to: Give in to the shame of being rejected.”
Let’s not be ashamed. Let’s press on.