So I left you all on a bit of a cliffhanger last week, and I know you’ve been eagerly refreshing your inbox/Facebook/Twitter for the update…
When I started this blog, I made myself a very important promise: I refuse to only chronicle the good and easy. Because frankly, that’s not how life works. I want to be honest with my readers, my fellow writers – and myself – about the realities of the publishing process.
So today I am here to talk about the one email every aspiring author never wants to receive but seems inundated with… the rejection.
After two years of drafting, a particularly beastly revision, and you know, placing all my hopes and dreams on this one manuscript, any rejection is rough. And after receiving several in the past two weeks, I found myself at a loss for words… And more importantly, a loss for what to do next.
Then I got the flu. It’s been a hell of two weeks.
But there’s a perk of being bed-ridden for several days at a time. You have a lot of time to think. To plan. To develop that “what to do next” plan I was so lacking.
It also gives you the excuse you need to just feel pitiful for a while – something I never would’ve admitted to before, but now realize just how important this stage is to anyone living a creative life.
And after a few days, I made a pretty groundbreaking revelation…
Rejections are like breakups… But agents are nothing like old boyfriends.
So that being said, let’s talk about what a rejection really means, how to decode the feedback and what you should do next. Because obviously giving up is not an option.
Deconstructing the feedback
The words used in a rejection tend to haunt you just like the reasoning behind being dumped. You find yourself confused, lost, and second-guessing yourself and your work. In an attempt to help other writers, I’ve included two of my more personalized and helpful rejections below to walk you through the process of decoding these replies.
NOTE: Each email on the left was received after the agents read my first draft back in September 2016. And the emails on the right were received in the past two weeks after reading my newest revision.
Now after reading those emails several – and I mean SEVERAL – times, here are the main takeaways:
- First things first… For any agent to take the time to not only read the manuscript twice but to provide such helpful and constructive feedback is huge. I’ve been lucky enough to receive a few really detailed responses. I’ve also received several form rejections, and there have also been occasions where I’ve gotten no reply at all. It’s the difference between a quick blow-off text message and in-depth breakup over coffee. The latter shows the amount of time they spent and promise they see in your work.
- If you’re me, the first thing you do is scan the email for the gist. And in this case, the gist is a big, fat NO. But once you’ve let that settle in, be sure to go back and digest the positive and constructive feedback as well. Agents don’t just make this stuff up! They are not using the “you’re great, but” line as a way to temper the break up. The praise is real and something you should be incredibly proud of.
- In both agents’ responses, there are several common issues they saw in the manuscript: pacing, word count, tension, and raising the stakes. When multiple agents provide similar feedback, it’s a sign of where to go back and improve. If multiple boyfriends say you have bad breath… I’d buy some mouthwash.
- But there is also one notable difference between the two replies above: the romantic subplot of Dani & Josh. This is where feedback can get a little tricky. Only one agent mentioned it as a problem… Do I move forward with fixing/removing it? And quite frankly, it’s a personal judgment call. Something to ponder on and revisit once it’s percolated for a while.
- We also have the more difficult to understand comments like the lack of “can’t put it down” momentum. Novel aspects like these are really ineffable, and as a reader, they typically present the biggest challenges when moving forward. Feedback like this can sometimes be nothing more than an agent saying “You are just not the one.” This is where your critique partners and beta readers become invaluable. Ask them to read with this one comment in mind and see what they come up with.
- And last but certainly not least, the closing. Note that both agents complimented my writing skills, thanked me for the chance to read, and one even asked to be kept in mind for future projects. This is not the lame “Let’s still be friends” ending. I don’t know how many times I can say this, but agents do not lie. Take these closings to heart and allow them to lift you back up into a place of motivation.
Like any break up, there comes a time – after an acceptable mourning period of ice cream and sappy movies – to put yourself back out there.
Once you have broken down the rejection into manageable and meaningful feedback, you have one of three possible choices on how to move forward:
- Keep querying the novel as is.
Every agent’s feedback is extremely subjective to their taste, their current client list and their wishlist. I once read that you should never even consider moving on until you’ve queried at least 100 agents. After all, you want an agent who feels passionate about your novel. “You want to find “the one,”and sometimes, you just have to keep searching.
- Launch full steam ahead into another revision.
After a few months of querying, you may start to see common threads in your rejections. There will be the occasional off-color comment, but if all of your feedback starts to sound the same, it may be time to take a closer look with a red pen. It’s daunting – especially if you have already been through a large revision. But if you agree with the feedback and see additional room for improvement, you could end up with an even stronger manuscript.
- Set this manuscript aside and work on another project.
There comes a time when you feel like you have done absolutely everything you can with the project in question. You are burnt out, you are tired, you are completely out of inspiration. It’s okay to take a break. Stick that manuscript in a drawer. Let it gather some dust. Revisit in a few weeks or months when you feel inspired again. But most importantly – use this time to start another project. You are not giving up on your first manuscript, but keeping your brain busy, the creativity flowing and your fingers typing is crucial.
When you are in the throes of a recent rejection – or breakup – none of these options sound particularly appealing. And here is where I want to be really honest… Nothing about this process is easy. Trying to get a book published is intimidating, draining and intensely personal.
But hey… If following your dreams was easy, everyone would do it. So pick up your pen and keep writing.