T. C. Kemper
The Anxious Writer’s Guide to Handling Query Rejections Like a Pro
Updated: Dec 13, 2020
So you’re excited about a manuscript you’ve spent months/years/millennia on: the this-is-the-one-I-just-know-it book of your dreams, and it’s time to query! You’ve compiled your list of potential agents, polished up your query letter, said a little prayer/boogied your little good luck dance, and hit send!
And send. And send. And send.
But then, the rejections roll in. The “thank you, but no thank you” emails. The form rejections. The cricket-chirp no replies. The “I just didn’t connect” apologies that let you know they’re not the agent for you at this time.
And your heart sinks.
“Why???” you scream into the universe. “I poured my heart and soul into this YA Skeleton-Sandwich-Disco Fantasy! Why won’t anyone love it like I do?”
Oof. Been there!
Rejection is never easy, especially when you’re querying. I mean, they’re called the query trenches for a reason. If it were simple, they’d be called something a bit more pleasant, like the query flower patches or the query cocktail parties.
But my dear Anxious Writer, take heart! So many success stories have come out of those query trenches, and I have never heard of an agented writer who didn’t face rejection first! NEVER! It’s part of the process, and one day, your incredible book baby will find a home with the right agent and arrive on shelves with your big, beautiful author name stamped across the front! Keep going!
(If you need real-life inspiration on one writer’s perseverance, visit Maria Tureaud’s “How I Got my Agent” blog post: https://mariatureaud.com/2020/08/20/how-i-got-my-agent/ )
In the meantime, though, how do you manage being told no? As a querying writer myself, I decided to do some snooping around the Twitterverse to see how various writers have dealt with rejection. (I’ve also had my own ups and downs in the trenches!)
For your reading pleasure, Anxious Writer, here’s a compilation of tips for grappling with agent rejections.
1- Pause and Take a Breath
Seriously. Pause. Feel what you need to feel and reread the rejection letter if you need to better understand what the agent is telling you. But during this time-out, remind yourself of a few very important things: one, it isn’t personal, two, this industry is very subjective, and three, your worth as a human being has nothing to do with your full manuscript not being requested or this agent not falling in love with your story. You are going to do amazing things, and this one little bump in your publishing path isn’t the end of the world! You are breathtaking! You are a sunbeam! You are a cheetah!
Paused? Taken a breath? Repeated happy little mantras in your head? :) Good. Now, here comes the important part: DO NOT REPLY WITH SOME HALF-COCKED ANGRY EMAIL. I repeat: DO NOT DO THIS. Agents are lovely people who are just trying to represent exciting new voices, and they don’t deserve your wrath. They’re book lovers, too! They’re the ones helping all your favorite stories from all your favorite authors arrive in the world! They’re on your bookish team!
And what's an angry email or furious tweet going to accomplish, anyhow? Nothing! In fact, it might hurt your chances of ever getting traditionally published because agents pay attention to this kind of behavior, and agents remember. Publishing is a business, and it’s important to remain professional.
So breathe in, breathe out. You are breathtaking. You will get there. Be kind. Be professional.
2- Look for Patterns
If you follow the advice of a lot of editors, writers, and agents, you are likely sending out your queries in small batches and paying attention to what kind of feedback you’re getting. Wonderful! Most agented writers I know were able to fix their manuscripts by looking for feedback patterns.
If you’re getting a lot of form rejections, your query or first pages might not be strong enough and need to be tweaked. If agents are telling you they’re not connecting with your protagonist, you might need to ramp up your Deep POV. If they’re telling you that your story reads younger than the age group you’ve listed (*raises hand!*), you might need to reexamine whether your “lower YA” is actually MG! Same goes for word count, pacing, and anything else an agent might pinpoint as an area in need of growth.
In a nutshell: you can see rejections as little failures, or you can see them for what they really are: an opportunity to improve! You can only get better once you know what to work on! :)
3- Talk to a Friend/Critique Partner/Beta Reader
Sometimes you have those days where the rejections really sting. Maybe your dream agent turned you down, or you just got a heartbreaking “no” on a full. It happens, and it’s going to be okay. Promise. <3
Turning to a trusted friend or CP to talk it out can be a fantastic way to get through it! I am SO lucky to have some fabulous writer peeps in my life. They pick me up and dust me off when I need it and I do the same for them! Writing is HARD, ya’ll, and the publishing journey is a long and treacherous quest full of mountains and valleys and howling wolves and venomous snakes and the dreaded Imposter Syndrome Beast that lurks in every shadow. But having someone to talk to can make all the difference!
Seriously. Chat up a buddy. You’ll feel better, and sometimes they might even help you see your writing in a new light.
4- Treat Yo’self!
I’ve seen querying writers on Twitter talk about putting a dollar in a jar for every rejection they get, and then once they earn representation, they’ll buy themselves a self-care gift! LOVE THIS! I’ve also heard of writers collecting beads for each “no,” and then they’ll string them all together into a victory necklace once they get that “yes!”
These are just 2 examples of ways to practice a little self-love while you trudge through the query trenches. Me? I eat a scoop of Haagan Dazs Cherry Vanilla or Strawberry ice cream. That stuff can fix anything. Ice cream is a balm for my weary soul.
5- Let it Fuel your Creative Energy
Some people attribute their success to sheer perseverance, some to the power of positivity, and others to unfettered, sizzling spite. Hey, whatever works for you!
When it comes to rejection, you choose how it impacts your next step. Do you let it beat you up? Or do you let it propel you forward? If there is one nugget of wisdom I’ve learned from querying, it’s that how you look at things is 90% of the battle.
I choose to let each rejection motivate me. For each “no,” I write out a paragraph on my newest WIP or take a couple hours to reread my work with fresh eyes. I remind myself that one day soon, I’ll make it to publication. Remember, the writer-agent relationship is a partnership, and just because this *particular* agent turned you down doesn’t mean you won’t find the perfect fit soon!
If you need to take a break, do it. Revise, loop in a couple more beta readers, or just REST. It’s okay. Come back to the trenches when you’re ready. Just don’t give up.
You’ll get there, Anxious Writer! Until then, celebrate every milestone in between, and KEEP GOING! You’ve got this! :)
(And if you haven’t tuned into the #writingcommunity, #amwriting, #amediting, #amquerying, or #writerscafe hashtags, it might be worth your while to check those out!)
If you ever want to say hello, find me on Twitter: @Taylortac <3
Stay safe and stay creative,