When I began writing my first manuscript, I had no idea it would one day be a real, live book nor did I have any clue how much rejection I would overcome before seeing GRIT OF BERTH AND STONE in print. As rejections rolled in, I learned to push through the clenching in my gut, cry a little if necessary, share the news with the select few who knew where I was in the querying process, and get on with life. Eventually, it paid off.
Fast forward about five years from those early days of manuscript writing, and I find myself not only in the query trenches again, but also in the position of editor for Anaiah Press. Between my roles as author and editor, I’ve learned a few things about rejection that I hope will help you in your journey toward publication.
- Rejections aren’t all bad. First and foremost, rejections can show where you are weak. If you send ten queries and get ten rejections, chances are your query needs tweaking. If you send out a full manuscript, and an agent or editor responds with personal feedback, which they often do at that stage, you have some indication of what isn’t working in your manuscript and maybe an idea of how to fix it.
- Rejections aren’t personal. I began to suspect this early on, and becoming an editor only confirmed it. Sometimes I get a submission that’s good. The writing is solid, but… I can’t quite pin it down. Something doesn’t work. It isn’t the author’s fault. You’ve done your job. But I can’t request the manuscript because the sample pages do nothing for me. And you don’t want me to accept that manuscript. You’ve poured yourself into this manuscript. You deserve an editor who will pour her heart into helping you achieve all you hope for your book.
Sometimes, too, I read a full manuscript that I love but can’t acquire because it doesn’t meet Anaiah’s content requirements and bringing the manuscript within our guidelines would destroy the story. I’m not going to ask an author to change the heart of a beautiful story just to fit our guidelines. As an author myself, doing so would feel like a betrayal.
This is a good place to point out that a form rejection is just that. Because of the volume of queries an agent or editor might receive, responding personally to each author isn’t a viable option. But there’s also the fact that we can’t always pin down what doesn’t work or how an author might fix it. Sometimes, it’s not even anything an author should fix. It’s me, not you, to borrow an overused line from the dating world. A form rejection allows an agent/editor to let you, the author, breathe again—no news is more stressful than bad news—but it doesn’t necessarily mean anything more than “No.”
- Sometimes rejections are your fault. Okay, I’m going to be a little harsh here, but sometimes it is your fault. If you query me with something that blatantly violates Anaiah’s content guidelines, which you can find on our submissions page (http://www.anaiahpress.com/submissions) and should have read before querying, you’re going to get rejected. If you submit something completely outside the genres I’m looking for, which you can find if you search Twitter’s #MSWL hashtag with my Twitter handle, you might pleasantly surprise me, but you’re more likely to be referred to another editor, but that’s only if your writing is good. If you act like you’re God’s literal gift to me, if you’re a jerk on social media, if you do anything that makes me think, even for a moment, that you’re going to be a nightmare to work with, I’m liable to reject you, no matter how great your manuscript is. Here’s the thing: I want to help authors bring their books to life, but that’s a team effort. You have to play by the rules to win this game, and I don’t want to invest my time and energy in an author who won’t do basic research or show basic civility. It’s harsh, but true, so DON’T BE THAT AUTHOR!
- Most importantly, a rejection doesn’t mean you should quit. It’s been said that a writer shouldn’t give up on a manuscript until she’s collected a hundred rejections. I don’t know of any other profession that tells aspirants to fail a hundred times before giving up. I think that says something not only about the publishing industry—It’s tough—but about writers—We’re tougher.
Rejection is a way of life for writers. You will face it, but you need not be defeated. It’s okay to cry or punch your pillow or whatever makes you feel better, but after that initial disappointment wears off, dry your tears, bandage your pride, tweak your query letter and/or manuscript, and get back in the trenches!
As a child, Lisa Dunn fell asleep to her father’s fanciful bedtime tales and played with her own story ideas during the daylight hours. She now resides in a small southern town with her husband, four children, and an ever-changing assortment of pets. Local librarians habitually thank her for their job security.
Read The Chasmaria Chronicles by Lisa Dunn.