What Your REJECTIONS Are Telling You
4 Kinds of Query Rejections plus TONS of writing resources!
*For writing links and resources, scroll down*
The Sharp Sting of Rejection
Oh, rejections. They slowly chip away at your self-confidence, and we writers pursuing publication must endure a lot of rejection. Is it any wonder people talk about the fragile writer ego? Hey, my ego wasn’t that fragile at first, but after hundreds (or maybe at this point thousands) of rejections, well… yeah, it’s a bit threadbare.
As much as they hurt, and as much we’d like to delete them from our memories and our inboxes, rejections can be useful. For querying writers, your rejections might be telling you something. Something important.
The 4 Types of Rejections
If you’re querying a book to agents or indie publishers, you know to expect rejections. It’s an unfortunate part of the game, until someone figures out a better way. But did you know there are different types of rejections?
Form rejection: A form letter with no personal feedback.
No response: Maddening, I know, but some agents/publishers just don’t have time/energy to respond to queries that don’t interest them. Often it will say on the agency website something like, “if you don’t receive a response after three months, please assume we have passed on your project.”
Personal rejection: A rejection with a little piece of feedback specific to your book. Usually it comes in the form of “I liked _____, but ______.” For example, “I liked the premise of a teenager being possessed by a ghost, but I didn’t find myself connecting with the voice.”
“Send me your next” rejection: This may still come as a form letter, but it will say that you should feel free to query again with a different project. Agents aren’t saying that just to be nice either; if they say you should query again, it means they saw something they liked in your writing and want to keep the door cracked open for you.
Why Should You Keep Track of Rejections?
I mean, obviously you should keep track so you don’t end up re-querying an agent who has already rejected you (embarrassing!) But you should also keep track of what type of rejection you received.
Why? Because if you are getting mostly form rejections and no responses, it might mean you need to take another look at your query letter and/or first pages. Maybe some revision is in order; maybe you should take a query letter workshop class.
If, on the other hand, you are getting personal and “send me your next” rejections, that’s a great sign! The feedback may be subjective (like “I didn’t connect to the voice”), and therefore there’s not much you can do, but if there’s something they suggest that you can change (and you want to), consider making that revision. Then keep querying! You’re likely getting close to some manuscript requests.
And be sure to note the agents who want to see your next project. As much as you hate to think you might be back in the querying trenches with another project... it could happen. Writers have to part ways from their agents for many reasons and find themselves back to query square one.
BTW, it’s rough out there in the query trenches
Querying is VERY hard, and it's especially hard right now in the COVID world. Editors are accepting fewer submissions which means agents are taking on fewer clients. I sent out 90 queries before getting an offer of representation, and I know other authors who sent over a hundred queries before signing with an agent and getting a book deal. You have to query the right agent at the right time with the right project. Sometimes it really is a numbers game.
That being said, if you are getting nothing but form rejections and no response, take a good, hard look at your submission package (query letter and first 10 pages). Consider asking for feedback from your writing group or paying for a one-on-one session with an agent.
So how can you tell if a rejection is a form letter?
Sounds silly, but it can be hard to tell if a rejection is a form letter or if it contains personal feedback. The rule of thumb is, if it doesn’t contain anything specific to your book or your query, it’s probably a form letter.
Keep in mind that the same agent might have several different form letters, depending on what they thought of your query. They might have one for “I didn’t connect with the voice,” and another for “This has potential but isn’t right for my list at this time.” If there’s nothing specific to your book, it’s probably a form, but you still might be able to eke out a little generic feedback, even from a form.
Need some examples? I combed through my old emails and found a bunch of my own query rejections: form rejections, personal rejections (some more painful than others), and rejections I’m still not quite sure what to make of them. This Rejection Collection (My Real-life Query Rejections: Form, Personal, and More!) is available for paid subscribers of my email newsletter.
This newsletter is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
For All Writers:
Tomorrow evening (August 4) The Good Story Company is offering a FREE online workshop on Writing Irresistible First Pages (and it includes a live critique).
Sarah Nichols has gathered up a list of Bookish Virtual Events for readers and writers from August 1-7. Check it out!
Tomorrow (and every Thursday) is #AskALibrarian on Twitter. This is a fantastic way to find reading recommendations, or comp titles if you’re querying. Simply tweet what you’re looking for and include the #AskALibrarian hashtag. Librarians from all over the country will respond with suggestions. It’s great!
Globe Soup is hosting an Open Short Story Competition. There’s no theme and the word count limit is 8,000. Early bird entry fee is £5 and the winner will receive £1,500. Entry deadline August 23.
I STILL cannot believe this is real, but Kwame Alexander is going to be the host of a reality TV show called America’s Next Great Author… and you could be a participant. They’ll be filming the pilot October 30 in San Francisco. Authors pitch their book idea to a panel of judges and receive feedback, advice, and a chance to win a cash prize. I guess this is really happening!?
If you wrote 1,000 words a day, 6 days a week, you could have a novel-length manuscript in a couple of months. How amazing would that be? So go ahead — read about my virtual course Cultivating a Regular Writing Practice! This series of do-it-on-your-own-time lessons will help you create a writing routine that works for you and keeps you writing regularly for the long-term. All four lessons are available now for paid subscribers.
International Literary Seminars is launching a unique and intensive series of workshops, lectures, and cultural offerings. Apply for this year’s program, held in Kenya (application deadline Oct. 15), and check out the website for contests, fellowships, and other offerings.
For Querying Writers:
Looking to polish your submission package? Tomorrow evening (August 4) The Good Story Company is offering a FREE online workshop on Writing Irresistible First Pages (and it includes a live critique).
I just learned about a very cool mentoring/pitching event called #PitchMe, taking place this fall. Here’s the timeline:
September 8: The submission window opens
September 22: Selected submissions announced
September 22-October 19: Mentoring takes place
October 20: Revised Twitter pitches posted; agents like their favorites
Every Friday, Operation Awesome offers one free query critique through their #QueryFriday contest.
The Pass or Pages Query Contest will be held October 3-7. Win feedback from agents about whether they would pass or request pages based on your query.
The querying trenches are rough right now, and Twitter pitch parties can feel like a crapshoot, but still, as I always say, it’s a great way to meet other writers and it certainly doesn’t hurt to try. (After all, I found my agent through a Twitter pitch party. I am now an official success story!) So mark your calendar for these upcoming Twitter pitch parties. And be sure to read my article 13 Things to Know About Twitter Pitch Events.
August 4 (9am-4pm BST): The Jericho Writer's Pitch Festival — SCI-FI & FANTASY — Pitch your SciFi or Fantasy work with the hashtag #SciFi or #Fantasy, along with #JWPitchFestival
August 5 (9am-4pm BST): The Jericho Writer's Pitch Festival — LITERARY FICTION — Use the hashtag #Literary, along with #JWPitchFestival
September 15: #LatinxPitch — Twitter pitch for all unagented and agented Kidlit LATINX authors, author-illustrators, and illustrators
Writing Conferences (in person and virtual):
WOWCON, WriteMentor’s online conference for kidlit writers, is coming up September 24 - 26.
This New York Write to Pitch 2022 Conference looks intriguing. The Zoom portion is September 8-11 and the live part is September 22-25 in NYC. And there are pre- and post-content, too. They are calling it The Premier Career Launcher for Aspiring Authors. I’m going to be honest, there’s so much going on with this conference I’d need an entire day to study and digest the website, but it looks very professional and comprehensive, so take a look for yourself!
This year the Writing Day Workshop “How to Get Published” Conferences will be held virtually. I attended one of these conferences in person a few years ago in Philadelphia, and I thought it was fantastic. I can’t vouch for the virtual version, but there are some benefits: recorded classes, no travel expenses, attend in your comfy pants. Plus, you can sign up for Zoom pitch sessions with agents for $29 a piece. Check out the upcoming conferences (and remember, anyone can attend from anywhere; just keep the time zone in mind).
For more writing conferences, check out this list or this list of 19 Writing Conferences for Emerging and Established Writers.