Thursday, July 27, 2006

How we deal with rejection

Rejection is one of those unavoidable parts of life that sucks.

At the moment, I'm so annoyed that a client's project has been rejected that I could spit nails. Not that I walk around on a daily basis with a mouth full of metal, but you get the point. I'd like to rant and rage and rail against all the Fates because I feel like this project deserved better. But doing so won't get me anywhere; all it will do is continue to feed my aggravation, and allow my annoyance to fester. Instead, I've developed a sort of philosophy.

When a client's project is rejected, the editor is not rejecting me. They are not personally rejecting my client either. They are rejecting the project itself, and often do so for a variety of reasons, ranging from not liking the writing to not being able to convince anyone else at the publishing house that it's a worthwhile project. But just because they've rejected this project doesn't mean it's a bad project. It just means that they're expressing a subjective opinion, and there is nothing that I can do to change that.

This is my thick skin of sorts; it's not the most spectacular rationalization, but it's the one that lets me go on with my daily job. So I get over my annoyance, even if I have to force myself to do so. I look at where I can send the project next. I see if the project needs any revisions, based on what the editor has written in the rejection letter. And then I send it out again. I haven't given up on a project yet, but I've only been doing this for a year and I realistically know that I may have to do so at some point. But I won't make that decision until I've exhausted every other option.

And I don't give up on my authors either. If their current project isn't working, we work together to develop a new one. We revise, we edit, and we get something new that we can send out the door to editors. I don't believe on taking on clients who I'm not willing to devote time and energy to, even if it means I may not get an immediate sale.

Yet, it's an interesting dichotomy. Because the other side of my job is to reject countless query letters and manuscripts, since let's face it, not every project is going to be one that I want to represent. But it's something that I have to do, or I can't efficiently work as an agent; you may think I'm crushing your dreams by rejecting you, but really, I'm not. I'm simply making a business decision. And you know that query letter or manuscript that I or some other agent has rejected? Get it out the door again. Revise it. Work on it again. And don't stop trying because one of these days, it's going to click with someone. It's the only way to get on in this business.

I'm interested in hearing what everybody else thinks about the whole subject of rejection, so comment away!


Kat said...

I try not to take rejection personally, and usually I succeed. Even when I don't, it's usually a build thing where, ten rejects into the process, my husband makes a slighting comment on my novel and all hell breaks loose. (He is a patient man. Not always a wise or sensitive one, but a patient one.)

I admit to getting torqued off about small, illogical things. Like the agents who send an itty-bitty pre-printed postcard rejection, or, worse, those who merely scribble "no thanks" across my query letter and send it back to me. At the moment my pet peeve is agents who reject via no-response. Okay, after four months I consider myself rejected, but is a form letter really too much to ask?

It's not personal. But the work being rejected is personal. I try to vent offline, where no one can Google me in embarrassing ways, and I don't try to prove to myself that the resentment is logical or justified, and most days I do okay. For the other days, well, hubby is resigned to being a chew-toy. *grin*

Jodi Davis said...

I take it personally. It's a rejection of me - of my work - of all my decisions up to that point. ANd I rant and rave about what an idiot the person is - with the imagination of a stick... and then I have a martini - and my family makes fun of me. Then I find the brilliant, wonderful, amazing *next* person who is not going to let me down by turning into a frog and rejecting me... until, you know, they do - rinse, lather, repeat.

I think it's just as good to feel the agony for a bit as it is to feel the pleasure when it's good news.

Linda said...

I'm getting better at rejection. In part, that's due to agents I've contacted who requested partials and whose responses leave me hopeful to the same extent that other, souless rejections leave me bereft. I share kat's disdain for scribbled "no thanks" and no responses when I, at least, spent my pennies on a SASE and a stamp.

One helpful part of this rejection process is learning about myself. I went into this not knowing much about what I would want in an agent. Now I am adamant I want an agent whose tone, professionalism and enthusiasm signal respect for my work. Rejections often tell me an agent isn't right for me. They can also tell me an agent is right for me. A few agents have signaled through their rejections that they're people I would like to work with. I sent two of them my newest novel just the other day.

So it's not personal, this rejection side of getting published. It's part of doing business. Yet it is personal. The writer isn't just a source of product, but a person, so of course it's personal. I'm just trying to find a balance.

Gabe said...

I agree with both Kat and Linda. But I am also a businessman and, as such, take rejection the same way I would if someone declined a quote on a product I was trying to sell.

If I take each agent and editor as a person in the business of making money, not books, then I can't take it personally. Not everybody wants to buy an Edsel and if the story/novel I am attempting sell is an Edsel, then I have to find someone that absolutely loves Edsel's.

That's why I think more agents should post their personal reading choices. If I know an agent loves an author that I write similarly to then my odds are better of at least getting glanced at. Likewise, if they love to read an author I hate then the odds are I won't be able to sell them my work.

Harry Connolly said...

I'm something of a fatalist when it comes to rejections. At the end of every manuscript, I type "This story has been rejected by" in hidden text and then list all the places I've sent it and when.

My first ever rejection, in which the person told me to "find someone to help [me] with structure," infuriated me. The one I received yesterday made me say "Dang" followed closely by "oh well."

But then, every rejection I get is my own fault.

BuffySquirrel said...

Having just received another rejection today, I'm not feeling enthused about them at present :). But it helps that many years of rejection have worn down the ego my parents fed to the point where although rejections disappoint, they don't surprise.

I think what feeds my frustration most is not knowing why the agent rejected, while at the same time accepting that they don't have the time to tell me, and it probably doesn't matter anyway, but still...I wish I had some idea why it's "not right". They don't like the writing, they don't like the protag, they don't like ME, or they haven't a clue where they would sell it? Happy to fix the novel, if I only knew what to fix...

Harry Connolly said...

It's funny. After leaving my last comment, I checked my inbox and found another rejection.


What can you do? (aside from writing a better book)

James Dashner said...

Jenny, I've never really thought about that before, that an agent has to deal with rejection from both sides. Interesting dichotomy, as you put it.

I'd imagine you have double worries: rejection for your client's project and your relationship with that editor. Do they become less willing to read something from you if they've rejected something you represent?

I've never received a rejection and not been hurt inside. It's definitely not as bad as it used to be, but it still sucks every time.

Shannon Hale does a great thing when she speaks, where she rolls out a VERY long laminated sheet, end to end, of all her rejection letters. It's probably 100 feet long, and really makes an impression on her audience.

If a Newbery Honor winner received that many, I guess we shouldn't feel so bad.

Marguerite Arotin said...

I've gotten my share of rejections but I guess the stubborn part of me pushed me onward. When I have critique parteners who love my work, it's a big confidence booster and makes me believe I have talent. So I shrug off the rejections, revise, and try again. It's all I can do until I find a good home for my work :-)

Catherine Morris said...

I love that you get so upset when your clients' work is rejected! Hmm, rejection...usually I can blow it off, as I know it's just another step toward publication. But every now and again it gets to me (as you know :) ).

Getting pubbed is such a mystical mixture of luck, talent, timing, etc., that if it takes a long time to get pubbed, it feels like you're writing into the void. Then, as your self-doubts grow, the rejections can start to seem personal because they echo your own insecurities.

I think the only answer get accepted. Hahaha!

Jenny Rappaport said...

james, it largely depends on the editor, but as an agent you build a lot of your reputation on name status. So if I send an editor a bunch of subpar manuscripts, that he or she then has to reject, they're not going to eagerly read the next thing I send them, even if it's really good. Editors are looking to build their lists, and they want to do business with the agents that will help them further their own careers, just as much as they want to find good writing and new authors.

So yes, an editor rejecting your material does slightly hurt your relationship with them, but not tragically. It's why matching the right project with the right editor is so key in this business.

Melanie said...

Am I correct to assume everyone posting in this Blog is a published author? I just finished my second volume in a trilligy I am writting. (just for the fun of writting it) After letting a dozen people read part or all of it, the feedback from them was awesome. So,I thought about having it published recently. Figuring that I am an unknown, and that I couldn't possibly find an agent, I decided to self publish the first volume. I believe in my work and figure that if the first volume sells then I shouldn't have too much trouble getting the other two published. But I am not liking what I am hearing here. Rejection is not in my vocabulary. So maybe I will just self publish all three and save myself the heartache. Who knows, maybe someone with an eye for my talent will seek me out.

D.L. Rankin said...

Hello, Jenny. I'm new to the blog stuff, but I just wanted to not "lurk" and to come out of the "woodwork" and say hello. I agree that you have to have a thick skin when it comes to trying to get a book published. I'm on my fourth draft of my manuscript and on about my eighth version of my query letter and am hoping to get better responses this time around. I sent you a query today. How long does it usually take for you to respond?