Rejections Aren’t Personal

This article first began as a March 29, 2007 writer blog post.

Feeling bad about rejections?

Don’t! It’s not personal… and I can prove it!

First, let me give a couple examples of rejection. So as not to call out any of my CPs (although they are welcome to post supporting documentation in the comments! g*) I’ll give a few from personal experience.

Rejection From Pitching

My very first conference pitch for my very first completed novel resulted in a request for a partial. I sent in the partial, which resulted in a very nice No Thank You letter. I was unsurprised, yet devastated. Now, many books later, I look back at that first novel and wonder how the agent made through any of it without setting fire to the damn thing. She wasn’t rejecting me. She was rejecting the hideous pile of double-spaced crap I’d foisted upon her.

Rejection During Pitching

Recently (as you may know if you read my Feb blog post,) I got a Please God Don’t Send Me That reaction during the pitch itself. As soon as I said the word “funny”, the agent grimaced and said, “I don’t like funny books. You can send it if you want, but I probably won’t like it.” Once again, she wasn’t rejecting me, she was rejecting humor. It had nothing to do with my mechanics or prose or voice or anything like that–she just didn’t do funny.

Rejection From Querying

So what if you’ve never met the agent? You query. Now, I have only queried 3 agents in my life, so I’m not the world’s foremost expert on this, but one did send me a rejection. In less than 24 hours of receiving the query. Yowza! I didn’t even expect them to get the email in that amount of time, much less decide they hated something about it.

I’ll never know what it was that caused the rejection, but since I feel confident in both my ability to craft unique stories and my facility with the English language and its grammar, I’m led to assume it was something about the story itself that just didn’t work for them.

Maybe it was another case of not doing funny. Or maybe they don’t like my style of humor. (EX: Some people love Monty Python movies. Some people hate them.) Or maybe they just took on something in the same vein as my story. Or maybe they have no clue where they would submit a story like mine. Or maybe they hated the story premise itself. The world will never know.

Rejection from Slush

While at the February 2007 Miami conference, agents read the first 2 pages of several manuscripts aloud and commented on whether they’d request or reject. They didn’t get to my story (curses! I so wanted to hear their reactions!) but one of the stories they all said they’d reject based on the title alone.

Shock and horror flooded the audience of aspiring writers. The crowd muttered things like, “How could they!” “How evil!” “How unutterably unfair!” “Shouldn’t they have read the partial to give the poor writer a chance?”

And my answer to all this is: No. As callous as it sounds to an aspiring writer, people can and do reject based on mere titles and this should not surprise you.

Which brings me to my point:

Proof Rejections are not Personal

Every time I browse an aisle in a bookstore and come away with nothing, I’m essentially rejecting all the books on those shelves, sometimes on no more than a title/cover.

On the one hand, it’s terrible, because as an author I know what little control we have over those things like story titles and cover art. But as a reader/buyer, you’ve got to narrow the selection somehow. Bookstores have thousands of books. I can’t read every book on every shelf and THEN decide which one to buy. It would be ridiculous to expect anyone to.

I know what I like to read, so I’m in the section of the right genre(s), but I don’t read the back of every single book on the shelves. Sometimes I do read the backs, and I think, “God, that’s stupid” or “Please, that old plot again?” and set the book back down. Sometimes the back cover copy is intriguing enough that I flip to the first page. Sometimes my eyes glaze over on that first page and I put the book back down. Sometimes I leave the aisle empty-handed. Before I leave the store, I glance at the table near the doorway with all their “featured” books. If a cover/title combo intrigues me enough, I might go pick it up and look at it. Otherwise, I shrug, chalk it up to a “nothing enthused me” day at the book store, and go home.

So, I think it’s the same for an agent. (Be forewarned: here comes a metaphor.)

Their slush pile, their inbox, their pitching table at the conference, all those things are their “bookstore”. Assuming you did your homework and are pitching/querying someone who represents what you write, this is the equivalent of the agent being in the right (genre) section of the store.

If you show up with a Kool-Aid mustache or send them signature confirmation envelopes filled with heart-shaped glitter, you’ve just presented them with the “bad cover/title combo” and they’ll pass.

Next comes your pitch or query letter, aka the “back cover copy/blurb”. If it sucks, they’ll move on. “What?” you scream. “How am I supposed to condense a 100,000 word masterpiece into an edgy, conflict-filled two paragraph hook?” Hey, that’s not their problem, in the same way that it’s not your problem when you’re browsing for books at your local bookstore.

If the back cover copy sounds boring/stupid/ridiculous, you’re not going to read all 100,000 words just to see if whoever wrote the blurb was a moron who didn’t do the story justice. No way. You’re going to set that book down and pick up the next one and hope its back cover blurb is more promising. This is what people do. And agents are people, too. We’ve all got a finite amount of available time and have to make the best judgments we can.

So the next time you or someone you know gets a rejection, go ahead and indulge in a little pity party, but then get over it. Because it’s not personal. It’s subjective. I have friends who love books and authors I despise, and vice versa. This means that’s there’s an agent out there who would love whatever it is you’re writing.

Keep writing, and keep querying. All it takes is one Yes!

This article first began as a March 29, 2007 writer blog post.

Erica Ridley