You’re totally looking at that title going, “Bullshit!” right? Yeah, I figured you would. Let me plead my case and see if you still feel that way when I’m done. If you do, I’ll write unicorn poetry in your honor or something, okay?
Any time a new writer sets out on this PATH TO PUBLICATION thing, everyone in the industry tells them to “batten down the hatches because the NOs are coming.” They say this when the draft isn’t even done for Christ’s sake, and to a new writer, that probably comes across as writers being protective of their industry – as in, they don’t want to share the limelight or something. Ninety nine percent of the time, that’s not the case. I’m sure there’s some douchewaffle somewhere who thinks warning new writers off will up their chances of snagging a future pub deal, but they’re special snowflakes and should be avoided like the plague. Writing folks don’t talk about the rejection thing to discourage new folks, but because they have first-hand experience with the onslaught. And it’s ugly.
Your rejections will really start when you’re querying agents. Sometimes it’s the form-letter rejection. Sometimes it’s no news at all and the agent has a policy of, “If you haven’t heard from me in three months, I’m passing.” Sometimes — and these are special times — an agent will reject you with a personalized note. They might say they’re passing with regrets because they have too much of this type of book, but good luck elsewhere. Or they might say say, “This came close for me, but I passed because __________.” THERE’S GOLD IN THEM THERE REJECTIONS, COWBOYS. Here’s why. If I remember this right, somewhere on the Irene Goodman website, there used to be a bit about the agency receiving 40,000 queries a year. That’s 40,000 people looking for representation for their books. The year Miriam scooped me and Lauren up? She took on a whopping three writers – and two of them came as a package deal because we co-wrote a book. By my math (and admittedly math isn’t my strong suit, but let’s hope I’ve got enough fingers and toes here) that leaves 39,997 other queriers with rejections. IG has three other agents, so let’s say they pick up two each. That still leaves 39,991 people getting rejected. IG’s usual policy is the “No news is a no” thing. As the agents have, you know, close to 10,000 queries to get through each, I can kinda see why. That all being said, if one of them takes the time to outline why they’re passing, going so far as to give you pointers or suggestions to improve the draft? They’re doing it because they see something in your work. They thought enough of it to reach out to you personally. Considering the mountain of queries they get, that holds some weight. It SHOULD hold some weight.
Being on submission to editors will be similar to querying agents when the time comes. Some editors will nothing you, and while that’s the worst of the worst, their workloads are murder so don’t personalize it too much. They didn’t make a conscious decision to sit on your manuscript forever to ruin your life. They get inundated and their To Do list is as long as the Mason Dixon line and THERE ARE SO MANY WORDS TO READ. OH MY GOD. However, those editors that take the time to read your book will often take the time to give a reason for their passes – more than agents did in the querying phase, funny enough. Sometimes you’ll get the, “it just isn’t my cup of tea” rejection or the “I liked this but I didn’t love it” rejection, but other times you’ll get, “The author did X, Y, Z right, but I passed because of A, B, C.” MORE GOLD HERE. Especially when the reasons for passing get consistent from editor to editor. If one editor passed for B reason, and then two passed for B reason, and oh hey, there’s a third passing for B reason – you probably need to sit down and reevaluate, and if your agent is keen on it, rewrite that sumbitch. And, if you get to the point that a rewrite is a real consideration, take it from someone with first-hand experience here – the best thing you can do is find all of those personalized passes you got and read them over. Pore over them. Again, if an industry professional took the time to give you their honest opinion on something — if they made the effort to tell you what worked for them versus what didn’t — they are in some ways giving you the keys to the kingdom. They are telling you how they evaluated your work, how they found you lacking, and in that, they’ve effectively told you how to get the deal.
The smart writer will see this as an opportunity. The smart writer will use it to fuel a rewrite tailored to these criticisms. And, in some cases, the smart writer will land a pretty nice deal for themselves.
Rejection. My surprising friend. Possibly yours, too.