Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Analysis of Rejection

I see it all too often, on the writer’s forums I frequent, on blogs, on twitter, and even at my real life writers group – aspiring authors who have written their first book –  who love every word, and can’t let it go – despite the piles of rejection slips that they are accumulating. They blame the publishing industry, the agents and editors, for their failure. Often these authors look for other ways into print. Maybe they self publish – after all – they’ve put so much work into it - it ought to be out there.

Or should it?

Take a step back. Look again. Rejection is all part of the learning process. All we can do is move one and try to become better writers. And so, for anyone out there currently hunting for an agent – here is my analysis of rejection.

Type 1. You receive nothing but form rejections.

This is tough I know. You started sending out your novel, full of hope, certain that everyone must love it as much as you do. But the truth hurts. It isn’t good enough. You’re only at the first stage in your journey and you have a lot to learn. Join and writing group, attend workshops, read up about the craft. Write a better book.

Type 2.  You receive a couple of personal rejections.

These can be hard to spot because agents often send out rejections that look personal but in fact use standard wording. Clues to look for are some specific reference that relates to your book or a hand written note.

This is encouraging. They see something in your work to stop and make comment – and believe me, with the size of the slushpiles these people are working through, that is quite unusual. But as with Type 1 you still have a lot to learn. Join and writing group, attend workshops, read up about the craft. Write a better book.

Type 3: Rejection on a full

This one is so disappointing. When that full request came in you were dancing round the room – at last – someone is going to love your work. Maybe you even had multiple requests for a full. This is it….

Or maybe not.

Take heart. You’re getting closer, you really are. It’s just that this book isn’t the ‘One’. Maybe the concept and writing are there, but the plot sags. Hopefully though, the lovely agent will give some feedback, although not always. There’s only one thing you can do. Try to work out where this one went wrong and – Write a better book.

Type 4: Rejection on a Rewrite and Resubmit

So you’re still not quite there but oh – so close. And it’s frustrating after all the work you put in trying to incorporate the agents comments, but your vision and theirs for this piece of work just don’t match up. Learn what you can from the experience. By all means keep sending it out – after all – you only need one person to love it! But in the meantime – Write a better book.

Type 5: The submission Process

You’ve signed with an agent who shares your vision and out it goes on submission and – guess what – it all begins again!! Time to write a better book!


  1. Yep, that's it in a nutshell Kate. Never rest on your laurels, never be totally happy with your last book, and always aim to make your next book better than the last one. Great blog post! :-)

  2. So true, Kate. But it's human nature to react against rejection and try to find an excuse for it - i.e. "it's not my fault". Yes, write a better book each time and hang in (against a sea of rejections!).

  3. Yep. 'Write a better book' is the only answer. And if that doesn't work - write an even better one!

  4. This is so very familiar and so very true.

    And spot on.

  5. I think this will strike a chord with every writer.

    I was lucky - in that my first book wasn't very good :D So I never had a chance to feel bad before I realised it was bad and, you guessed it, wrote a better book!

  6. Great post Kate.
    My children's series actually got as far as the submission process with an agent but so far hasn't been snapped up by a publisher. But it hasn't put me off - I'm well into editing my next project! So if writing is something you just have to do
    keep going.

  7. Totally agree, but remember the utter subjectivity of 'excellence'. An agent may accept as little as 1 in 1,000 unsolicited ms. Rejection may mean your writing is not yet excellent, but it may also mean you caught that particular agent on the wrong day/time/just after an argument with boss/partner, or when their frame of mind was 'one more off the stack and I'll go home'. One rejection is an incident. Loadsa rejections are a pattern. Personally, I worked on a 6 = rethink and rework cycle, and went through about 6 such cycles before acceptance. Which may only, in Kate's terms, have brought me to Type 5.

  8. I completely agree. I read somewhere that people, on average, get their fourth book published, if they get published at all. Learn from the process, make less mistakes, and write better books!

  9. Sometimes though it isn't the case of writing "a better book." Sometimes it is the case of writing a book that an agent "can place." If they don't have the contacts, then they can't sell.

  10. Looks like this post has struck a chord with many of you - and it's encoraging to see so many who have made it as far as stage 5! :-)

  11. Very good post Kate, and spot on. As others have said, there is sometimes the element of "timing" too: publishing follows trends just like music and movies, with different genres gaining and losing popularity. Any doubts about it, just go back and look at the state of children's and young-adult publishing before a certain book about a young wizard took off in the USA ( yep, it happened there first, not here ).
    Every book written is another lesson learned. There is never a moment wasted writing, no matter how many rejections. I still have over 100 letters of rejection from literary agents, accumulated over 15 or so years before I gained representation and a deal. My current books are now best-sellers, but they're not necessarily better than the ones that didn't make it. The timing was just better. Perseverence is what will get aspiring authors through, along with talent!

  12. Thanks Dean, you're words are so encouraging. And that's such a good point about timing.

  13. Absolutely right. Excuses are easy. One thing to remember though - fault does not always reside in the author or manuscript submitted.

  14. True, as Dean says - there's an element of timing.

  15. Oh so true! Real words of wisdom Kate. 'Write a better book' is going up on my white board of wisdom :)

  16. Timing can be everything, because everyone is looking for the next New York Times (yes I meant that; these people are the probable millionaires) top 10 seller, rather than the next British mid-list title. They take on the mid-list in the hope of finding the NYT top 10s. If you have a "fashionable idea" like wizard school or Urban Fantasy your chances of getting read by the agents are better though.

    If you work in F&SF, go to genre conventions like the BSFA Eastercon, the World Fantasy Con, maybe Worldcon itself. You'll get chances to meet other authors, and agents, socially as well as in a business environment.

  17. Great post, Kate, but alas, no time to comment. I'm stuck at 3 and 4 so I'm off to... write a better book!!


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