I got probably the nicest rejection letter I’ve received late last week. Of course the writer was still saying my novel wasn’t a good fit for them, and better luck elsewhere. And of course it means I’m still trying to sell this manuscript I’ve worked on for years and wished I’d placed by now. But the writer took the time to mention a few strong points in my novel, suggest areas for improvement, and encourage me to keep pursuing publication.
I’ve never received the infamous Downright Hostile Rejection Letter you hear about on writing websites and forums, but I’ve run most of the gamut. The form letter rejection. The no response at all (even though their website promised a response to all queries). The personalized rejection with no explanation. The personalized rejection with some explanation that’s not actionable (“The sample content just didn’t grab me,” “the field is so subjective”). The rejection with links to helpful online articles and agency databases. The rejection where they loved X about my writing and wished they could take on the project except for Market Reasons Y and Z.
When I’m first sending out a project, my hopes are high that this novel might finally be The One. Maybe I’ll get an agent. Maybe I’ll sell it to a solid publishing house. Maybe it’ll sell well enough to contract book two. In those first weeks and months, I feel every rejection keenly. It hurts because the book is as good as I know how to make it. I agonized over the cover letter and synopsis. But as the rejection letters pile up, I’m less hopeful and less confident. So many others didn’t want my book; of course this one doesn’t want it either. Until I get a bite—someone wants the first fifty pages or maybe even the whole manuscript—and then I get excited again, and feel the pain of each rejection again.
It helps that I’ve gone through this whole cycle for several novel-length projects now and seen the stages, and also that I sit on the other side of the desk for my day job. As an editor, I review plenty of proposals and manuscripts from both agented and unagented authors. I know what it’s like to really like the prose or characters in a novel but know that the project just doesn’t fit with our current publishing plan. I’ve written those rejection letters where I really liked and believed in the project, but our acquisitions committee rejected it for Market Reasons Y and Z. I’ve seen how empty a green writer’s bio and platform look like, and I know that’s what mine looks like too.
But rejection is still rejection, even when I’ve seen it hundreds of times before and know it well. The book I’ve spent hundreds of hours outlining and writing and editing and proofreading is still just a Word file on my computer, and I still ask the question of whether I should be doing something else with my time.
Which probably just means it’s time to send something out again.