Friday, July 26, 2013

Further thoughts on rejection--a post by Jenny

I write a lot about rejection because I *think* a lot about rejection.   I'm on both the giving and receiving end of it almost every day, after all.   

On any given day, I receive about 20 to 50 queries.  I just checked and so far today I've received 18.   Most them will be rejected, not because they are necessarily "bad" or unworthy somehow, just because for whatever reason (and I've blogged about this before), they weren't right for my list.   I don't exactly know what my request percentages are, but I think I probably request more than many other agents, I think it's part of my optimistic nature to do so.   It's so hard to tell from a query and ten pages what the potential of a manuscript is and so I often ask to see books that I'm a bit on the fence about.   And I have definitely offered representation for titles that I have initially been unsure about.

But you guys know all about this, and if you are an aspiring writer reading this blog, you may have even been on the receiving end of a rejection from me or from one of the other agents here.

This is what I want you to know about this:  we don't like rejecting manuscripts!   Nothing makes me happier than requesting a manuscript, loving it, offering representation and then selling it.   It's not a happy process to turn people down all the time and I don't know a single agent who does like it.   And here's what I also want you to know about this: we understand rejection and we know how hard it is and how much it can hurt because we also get rejected ALL THE TIME.  

In the past few months, I have offered representation to two authors who I thought were absolutely terrific.   Both of them had multiple offers of representation and both of them went with other agents.   So not only I got rejected, but a bunch of other agents got rejected.   I'm sure it wasn't the first time for any of them and it won't be the last time for any of us.

So there's that kind of rejection.  Then, consider this:  I have never, not in 20 years, sold a book that didn't receive multiple rejections in addition to the offer or offers of publication that it received.   Even when I sell a book at auction, and there are multiple bidders, there are always also multiple passes.   Sometimes it takes two or three rounds of submissions to sell a book, in fact, and I can get up to 20 or 30 passes before I sell something.  So even the "success" stories are full of rejection. 

And here is what I have learned from all this rejection.  The very most successful authors and agents I know do not get fazed by rejection. Yes, it hurts.  Yes, it sucks.  But if you don't personalize it (it's your book that got rejected, not YOU, is one helpful way to look at it), and you keep up the good fight, every single day, and you just keep trying as hard as you can, you are going to succeed.  I truly believe that.  I have certainly been laid low by rejection.  It's battered at my confidence, I'm not going to lie.  But I have never, ever let it defeat me.  And I want all of you reading this to promise yourselves that you won't let it beat you either.  Believe in yourself even when it feels like no one else does.  I am rooting for you!



  1. I love this. I'm in the middle of it like everyone else...First, sent MS to agents, got rejected a lot with 14 full requests, then had multiple offers and had to reject a few agents. Now my new agent is working on selling my MS and rejections are rolling in.

    One thing I do...I let myself be mad for five minutes, and then I get back to work.

  2. Thanks for this. Sometimes it's easy to forget that the writers aren't the only ones experiencing rejection!

  3. My first rejection letter actually made me really happy. While it wasn't great to be rejected, it was just that I know it's a part of being a writer. It has to happen and that just means it wasn't the right person or market. Or maybe I just need to work a little more on my writing.

  4. This is totally the pep talk I needed today after receiving another agent rejection last night (hey, at least it was a personalized rejection - that's gotta count for something, right?). Time to pick myself up and send out another query (or ten).

  5. So thankful to read these kinds of posts on the days when I need them most. Thanks for writing this!

  6. Thank you for putting the humanity back in the querying process. It's easy to forget, especially when the human element seems so far removed due to no mean no rejections and form replies.
    -Rachael Dahl

  7. Encouraging and SO helpful!!! I've been through the query process before and am about to venture down that road again, and having the right mindset is vital! Or so I feel like haha madness! :)

  8. I know agents get rejected by publishers, but it was good to be reminded that when a writer chooses one agent over others, effectively the author is rejecting those agents. A good perspective for us to take when we want to whine about agents turning us down. And you're right, Jenny--it's about our novels, not us. :)

  9. I love encouraging posts like this. It's always great to read about rejection from an agent's perspective because it reminds us we aren't alone. Thanks for an empowering start to the weekend.

  10. Yup...just got rejected by one of you guys. But you know what? Being rejected by some of the best, sets the bar high.
    I'll take any bar, hick-up, that gets me off the ground floor :)

  11. Awesome advice! I didn't realize that the "success" stories had so much rejection too. Having confidence and perseverance is a must in this business!

  12. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, it is cheering to know we are not alone. Rejection hurts but I try to see it as part of the process and keep going. I've got so close on a number of occasions and received good feedback so I just keep telling myself, "You can do this."

  13. Thank you for this. Sometimes we forget that the rejection extends beyond our own world. I really loved this post.

  14. Hmmm . . . I have an Excel Spread Sheet of agent/publisher rejections. At some point, and I've hit mine and passed it, you've got to ask yourself if constant rejection is good for anyone. I don't think it is. I get it that rejection forces us to examine our work. I'm not against substantial editing by the author and by a professional. I edit constantly.

    Jenny says something very telling, though, when she says 'they weren't right for my list.' I've heard that before, many times, and it made me think about something. I don't think my books were ever going to get me an agent because agents aren't looking for my type of books because they are trying to sell to publishers who don't want my books either.

    I self-publish and have had some success, enough success that I am fairly certain I will be writing full-time, as in making a living at it, by the first of the year. This is not to say that agents don't fill a role. They do. Especially for authors that need or want to go a traditional way in their publishing journey. But there are new paths open for writers to reach readers. Don't fool yourself that there is no rejection from self-publishing - reviews can be brutal. You've got to keep marching on as Jenny suggests. But, had I waited for an agent and publisher I would have never had readers say to me, 'I love your books.' And that's why I keep writing.

  15. Just as an FYI, based on a four year cross-sample of almost 2000 queries sent to you (since you left Trident) and tracked on a popular web site:

    Your request rate for partials and fulls is 7%.

    For the past 365 days, your response percentages (500 sample) are as follows.

    Requests for fulls and partials: 14%
    Rejections: 72%
    Non-responses: 14%

    Ranking positive response requests against the other 800 US agents who are currently accepting queries is difficult, because new agents always have ridiculously high request rate, but you are definitely in the top quartile of Agents who request pages.

    Now... Throw the numbers out the window.

    You haven't lost your humanity. You don't non-respond fulls. You are judicious with your cut-and-paste rejections. You've been in the gatekeeper business for a decade and you still treat us wannabes with grace and respect.

    Quartile, schmortile. In that respect, you are solidly at Number One.

    1. Wow, Shawn, thanks so much for this. It's unbelievably nice of you.

  16. Wow! I read this post in our Industry News with my RWA-Women's Fiction group. I have never had the opportunity to see "rejection" from an agent's point of view and I want to thank you for that. I, too, have been rejected by you and many other agents and yes, it's hard not to take it personally. However what you said about never giving up is so perfect, I want to thank you so much for that. I'm in the middle of sending out query letters and I "needed" your post.


  17. "[If] you just keep trying as hard as you can, you are going to succeed." In a world where success is based on luck as much as on talent and hard work, this is the best possible advice. Constantly work at improving your writing, yes. But, as Po Bronson says, "The hardest thing was not learning to write. The hardest thing was to never give up."