**NB: This is the second of a two-part blog post that first appeared on the Open College of the Arts website. The posts were inspired by the news that JK Rowling had shared her Robert Galbraith rejection letters. **
In the last blog post on the detested rejection letter/e-mail, I mentioned that the word ‘No’ comes wrapped in all sorts of sweet and sour coatings. Agents and publishers are practised at the art of rejection.
Writers, though, have no training in how to receive the bad news. We promise ourselves we won’t be hurt if someone doesn’t love our work, but deep down, we know it’s a lie.
In the last post, I said that there are different kinds of rejections: the photocopied standard letter or copy-‘n’-pasted e-mail, or the one that explains the reader’s thinking. So here are my suggested responses, whatever kind of ‘no’ you get.
When you first get the rejection, allow yourself to wallow, just for a day or two. Find a friend or partner willing to share a vat of wine or a bucket of ice-cream and listen to you rail about the cruelty of a world that doesn’t recognise your genius.
Then stop. What are the options? Give up? Or try again. (Go for the latter). Now’s the time to look again at that letter/e-mail and eke what you can from it.
If you have a standard rejection, then give yourself a little slap on the wrist. Possibly, you didn’t do your homework and you sent a romance novel to an agent/publisher who specialises in crime, or a vampire-zombie novel to someone whose website says they’re looking for something entirely fresh and surprising. Read about agents and publishers before you submit: there’s a lot of information available on their sites, so you can find out precisely what excites them.
Or, more likely, you didn’t take enough care with the writing. In your eagerness to get your work out there, you didn’t craft well enough and/or you didn’t bother proofreading. Whatever it was, your work didn’t get past the lowly pre-reader, so this is what it tells you: your manuscript is just not ready.
I couldn’t resist a smile when J.K. Rowling revealed that one of the rejections for the Robert Galbraith novel advised her (him?) to take a writing course. That’s exactly what I would have said and I stand by it: her style is pedestrian. That novel sold purely on the name, after it was revealed.
The good news is, if you are on the OCA’s courses, (or any other writing course) then you’ve already committed to improving your writing. You know that feedback you get from your tutors, all of whom are published authors? Listen to it. Apply it. And that will lessen your chances of those standard ‘no’s.
What about the rejections that do contain some feedback? First, be pleased: your manuscript was genuinely paid some attention. That’s more than around 90 per cent of the submissions to that agent/publisher will get. It also means you’re much more likely to find someone else who loves enough to take it on.
But treat with caution. The problem is the element of subjectivity. One agent may love your choice of first person point of view; another will tell you that your story would be better told in the third person. What to look for is a common thread. When two or more agents/ publishers mention the same issue – a problem with voice, for example or a weak ending – then they have certainly hit on what isn’t working with your manuscript. That’s the time to act, if you are serious about being published. Rejection, when it comes with solid advice, is a good thing if it makes you improve.
Rowling says she has kept all of her rejection letters in a box. I have an image of her opening them up every now and then and cackling as she throws another £50 note on the fire.
But should you do the same? It’s a personal choice, but I reckon it’s better for your general well-being if you don’t keep all those ‘no’s. Re-reading them won’t do your self-esteem any good; scoffing at them once you’re published is arrogant. Take any nuggets of useful advice and then send the letters to the recycling pile. And remember, rejected writer, that you’re in the most esteemed of company – just look at who went through this before you.