Writers, I’ve learned, need to be patient and persistent in the face of constant rejection. It seems every successful author has tales of rejection after rejection at every stage of the publishing process.
JK Rowling was rejected 12 times for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Dr. Seuss’s first book was rejected 27 times before being published. Agatha Christie endured five years of rejection before landing her first publishing deal. The list goes on and on.
At this year’s SCBWI conference, I was both shocked and encouraged when Clare Vanderpool, author of 2011’s Newbery Medal winning novel, Moon Over Manifest, showed us pages upon pages of crossed off names, written meticulously on yellow legal pad paper. They represented years of rejection from publishers and agents. Finally, on what seemed like the millionth page, there was a giant circle around one agent’s name. After being signed by an agent, she won the Newbery Medal.
I can only dream of the bestselling, award-winning big leagues. I’m definitely dreaming. For now, I’d be thrilled to find an agent and eventually land a book deal. Apparently, an author can expect to be rejected anywhere from 17-300 times before signing a publishing deal. And, due to the high volume of submissions received by agents and publishers, rejections can fall into three categories: no response, form rejection letter, personal rejection letter. Personal responses are rare. The process of waiting can take anywhere from one to six months.
I spent this past summer researching agents that might be a good match for me. I read every post on Query Shark and crafted my query letters. Finally, in August, I sent my first query letter to an agent. I sent out nine letters over the next month. I hoped to be signed, but would have been thrilled by at least one personal rejection.
My first response was a personal rejection.
BUST OUT THE SPARKLING CIDER AND CELEBRATE!
It read (names removed):
Ms. Ho Bradshaw,
Thank you for your query. __________and I both read your submission and we really enjoyed __________; the rhythms, repetition, language, and images are very strong. Those last two lines are happy and heartbreaking and beautiful! Unfortunately, and I hate telling authors things like this, but this book, especially as a debut (if you’ve published before please correct me) would be a really hard sell. This story is important and deserves to be told, but judging from our experience editors will pass because the general audience of American children won’t be able to relate to this event, which you yourself admit has been forgotten by many. It’s a beautiful story but it’s not the most engaging unless you have a personal connection. Additionally, it’s very sad and solemn though it has a happy ending. I hate to be the bearer of that bad news because our agency is constantly looking for diversity and originality, so I apologize for the mixed messages. Though we feel we should pass on this piece, please feel free to submit to us again in the future. _______ and I would both be interested in seeing what other stories you have up your sleeve because we enjoyed your writing. And I do feel that after you’ve established yourself, ________ could and should be revisited.
Wishing you much success on your journey,
The supportive words of the rejection more than tempered my disappointment. They also alleviated Catch 22 sting of writing stories about marginalized communities in an industry struggling with diversity. The invitation to submit again was affirming and encouraging.
I received an email from another agent requesting more stories. Though she ultimately did not make an offer, she also expressed interest in seeing more of my work in the future. Again, affirmation and hope.
I received a few more form rejections and have not yet heard back from the others.
In an industry where I expected to send out 17-300 letters before receiving a personal response or interest, one personal rejection and one request for more material felt like a huge step in the right direction. These rejection letters affirmed my work and effort. They inspired me to work even harder to improve my craft. They prompted me to ask hard questions and have provided clarity around the stories I should tell. They gave me hope.
I’m grateful for my rejection letters. They feel like proof that I’m on the right path.