Rejection by a publisher usually leaves us feeling down and may set us into a spiral of self doubt or anger that can be painful and self-defeating. It’s helpful to know how to handle rejection by a publisher or agent in a more positive way.
Everyone faces rejection or failure sometimes. It could be a girl saying’ no’ when you ask her out, failing an exam, not passing an audition, not getting into the team, burning a cake or loosing a game. Whatever it is, the feeling is the same, more intense for some things, but basically the same, and not a pleasant feeling.
Artists of all kinds get rejected more than most. It’s a fact of life for people in their professions. As a performer, every time I went for an audition, I faced rejection, and rejection is what I got more often than not. This is normal. You get used to it, but it can take a while. By the time I started writing, I was prepared for the inevitable rejections. I’d learnt how to handle it.
Tips on avoiding the usual emotional treadmill following rejection
- Don’t expect to be accepted / succeed, then you won’t be disappointed. That doesn’t mean you expect to be rejected or fail either, try not to expect anything, just be open to whatever happens.
- Don’t buy into hope and fear. It’s there, sure, you hope you’ll be accepted and you’re afraid you won’t be, but when those thoughts and feelings come, don’t dwell on them, don’t reject them, just let them pass without thinking about them. Remember that the more you hope for success, the more afraid you’ll be of failing and the more painful it will be if you do.
- Have realistic expectations. A lot of people write books, but few meet professional publishing standards. The % of submissions to mainstream publishers that actually get published is around 2-5%. It’s likely to be higher with some Indie Publishers, but AIA Publishing still rejects about 90% of submissions and many we only publish after my editing team have helped the author refine their work. If you’ve written your book without professional help or some study of the craft, it’s likely that your book still needs work and so won’t pass a submission process.
- Relax and practice acceptance. Whatever happens is what happens. You may think it is terrible now, but maybe it’s not. Maybe further down the track you’ll see that it was actually a good thing in disguise
- Be content with what you do have/get/achieve. That’s the key to happiness regardless of what happens.
- It’s not the end of the world. So your book isn’t going to be published after all, you didn’t get enough marks to get into the university you wanted, your girlfriend / boyfriend dropped you. There are always other options – other publishers, other novels, other girls / boys, other universities, career pathways and other times.
- Be grateful if you get some feedback. Publishers and agents usually don’t give you that. Honest feedback is gold. Even if you don’t agree with it, you can learn from it, and your work will improve so that, if not with this book, then perhaps with the next book you’ll be more likely to make the grade.
- Look at it as a learning experience. Ask yourself, what can you learn from this?
Rejection as a learning experience
Of course, you’ll be disappointed if your book isn’t accepted, but you could use the rejection as the impetus to make your work better, then resubmit it if the publisher gives you that option – mainstream ones don’t. AIA Publishing offers manuscript appraisals to authors whose books show promise but don’t presently meet publication standards. Authors that take us up on the offer, take careful note of the feedback and rework their book accordingly usually meet our publication standards eventually.
Unless you’ve studied a lot and / or worked with a good editor, you won’t know how your book compares with others. (Reading a lot of well-written books helps, of course) I’m lucky that I didn’t self publish my first book before I got my agent, because even though I thought it was ready, it wouldn’t have got a publisher in the state it was in. My agent made me rewrite it and remove 19,000 words. It improved immensely. Then she asked me to re-edit it again 6 months later after feedback from a publisher who told her it wasn’t well enough written. I was grateful for the feedback. It set me searching for the answer to one question.
What makes good writing?
When I went searching for the answer to that question, I found a lot of info about structure, plot, characters, dialogue, showing not telling, POV and so on, but it was very hard to find information on writing good prose. I eventually found my answers, and they’re all in my book The Elements of Active Prose: Writing Tips to Make Your Prose Shine. Had I not been rejected by that publisher and given that one line of feedback, I would never have learned how to write decent prose, never become an editor, and never written a book to help others write well.
Rejection isn’t always bad
Would you want to publish a book that readers find boring, or can’t finish for some reason? Would you want your friends and colleagues to read your book only to find it embarrassingly bad? Would you want your potential career as an author killed off before it can get going because your first book is a dud? No. Well, rejection saves you from that.
This is part of a series of blog posts on how to write a novel. It doesn’t just cover the technical details, but also the emotional journey we take and the personal challenges we meet on the road from potential author to author. Join the journey now, and don’t miss a post, click here to sign up to get my Novel Revision Checklist and links to the articles sent to your inbox.
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You’ll also find my book on writing, The Elements of Active Prose: Writing Tips to Make Your Prose Shine, very helpful.
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