The Submissions Process: Dealing with Rejection

Sometimes it can feel as if you are languishing in the submissions trenches while everyone else finds an agent, gets a book deal, receives a starred review, and becomes an instant bestseller. If you’re feeling this way, you’re in good company! There’s a reason that this tweet went viral in the publishing corners of social media:

We all know that publishing is a subjective, mercurial, and imperfect business, and that the only authors who never experience rejection are those who never share their work. However, knowing these facts doesn’t make receiving rejections any less painful. 

While rejection will never be an enjoyable part of the publication process, I hope that you will continue to write and share your work, and that the below reminders—many of which you likely already know—might help to put the next rejection you receive into perspective.

Expect rejections.

If you go into the submission process hoping that you won’t receive any rejections, you are certain to be disappointed. Rather than approaching each rejection as a surprising failure, try to plan ahead: some authors view each rejection as part of a process of elimination, slowly bringing them closer to their eventual agent-editor-manuscript match. Other authors deliberately set out to receive a certain number of rejections each year; every rejection they receive brings them one step closer to their goal. Even if you don’t use these kinds of reframing techniques, try reminding yourself that feeling disappointed by rejections is a sign that you care; rejections wouldn’t sting if you didn’t have any investment in your work.

Remember that a rejection is not an evaluation. 

Writing a book is a time-consuming, emotional, and often lonely experience. When you finally start to submit your work to agents, it can feel as if every rejection is a direct evaluation of not only your work, but you as its author. As an editor who has reviewed thousands of submissions, I can assure you that this is not the case. 

While a rejection can be due to weaknesses within a submission, there are a number of other factors that could be behind an individual agent’s decision, many of which are completely out of authors’ control: the agent might have another upcoming project that they feel is too similar to this manuscript; they might not know many editors acquiring titles in this category or genre; they might only have room for one new client this year; they might have had trouble selling a similar manuscript recently; and the list goes on. 

Ultimately, it’s impossible for an author to know all of the reasons that may have led an agent to reject a manuscript; all that is certain is that the agent didn’t think they were the right agent to represent that particular manuscript at that particular time. Every agent and editor can recount manuscripts they rejected that went on to become award-winners and bestsellers; as an acquiring editor, I certainly passed on my share of books that were published to great acclaim. However, the primary takeaway from these experiences is not simply that hindsight is twenty-twenty; it is that the rejecting agents and editors truly were not the right fit for those books. Who knows what may have happened if those books had not had the same enthusiastic and knowledgeable publishing teams behind them?

The countless variables in the submissions process are also why I recommend that authors don’t limit themselves to only submitting to a handful of agents. If you’ve received a number of rejections on a manuscript and are uncertain whether it could benefit from further revision, consider soliciting additional feedback, such as from a trusted critique partner or writing group.

Try to focus on what is in your control.

While an agent’s individual response to your manuscript is out of your control, it can help to direct your attention to what is in your control, such as researching other agents who are looking for projects in your genre and category; submitting a new batch of queries; connecting and commiserating with other querying authors; and continuing to write. Remember that many authors find their agents with the second, third, fourth, or more manuscript that they submit; the more you write, the more chances you give yourself to strengthen your skills and find an agent.

Don’t overlook your wins.

It can be easy to look at the submissions process as all or nothing: either you find an agent, or you don’t. However, this approach overlooks all of the small victories along the way, starting with the huge accomplishment of finishing a manuscript—something that many people want to do, but most never achieve. 

Creatives often downplay their hard work and achievements; you can counteract this by making it a point to take note of your wins, from reaching your weekly writing target; to getting positive feedback from a critique partner; to receiving a full manuscript request; to submitting your fiftieth query. Finding moments to celebrate along the way will help to sustain you throughout your publishing journey.

Your Editor Friend,


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