This is one of the most painful aspects of a writer’s life. If you can work through this one, you’ve crossed a great desert of pain. And, with enough visceral fortitude, you’ll cross it, again, and again, and again. . .
When it comes to rejection letters, I always think about one of my favorite philosophers, Marilyn Monroe. When asked about her secret to success in show business, she said, “It wasn’t that I was the best actor in the room. I just wanted it more.”
Rejections are necessary, because they winnow out a lot of your competition. But, in saying this, I’m assuming that you’re in this for the long haul.
For some people, rejection is just too much. That’s understandable: you work your heart into your writing, only to receive letters saying “this isn’t quite right for me,” or “Though a strong story, I don’t feel passionate enough about it to take it to market.” Or, they don’t say anything at all, but send you a generic, “Dear Writer,” rejection letter. My old files are stuffed with those.
Let’s say a thousand people write their novels. They send their work to agents. All thousand get rejected. The next time around, there might be eight hundred who will send it out again. After the second rejection, it’ll shrink to five hundred. After that, the rejections really start to eat into the crowd. Maybe, maybe, by the tenth rejection, there will be a hundred who are still hanging in there. After that, I’d bet the average is twenty writers who still go at it, sending queries and the manuscript out without blinking an eye. Then thirty rejections, and we might be down to seven writers in the playing field.
Some writers finish their novel but are too petrified to send it out, afraid it will get rejected. I never know what to say those those people. How the hell are you going to know if your shit’s any good, if no one reads it? But, it’s okay if you don’t; because that means there’s one less writer in the running.
Luck happens. But, you’ve got to be there for it to happen to you. Because, yes, luck is part of this gig. Right place, right novel, right agent, right time. And that’s impossible to guess.
At some point, it’s wise to consider your mental health. Rejections will wear the shit out of you. You should ask yourself, “How long do I want to keep this up?” It’s a legitimate question, a necessary one. How you answer is up to you. Just, be honest with yourself. Because writing, as challenging and fun as it is, when it comes to selling a book, it’s just. . .brutal.
When you receive a rejection letter, go ahead and get pissed and anxious and depressed about how the agent doesn’t understand your genius—to your best friend, or spouse, or cat. But don’t take it out on the agent. Don’t fire off a letter telling her she’s lost her chance, or has no idea what good literature is. You can thank her—I always sent a note saying that, though she wasn’t able to take my work on, I appreciated her considering it.
Remember: the agents you query don’t give one hot damn how you feel. They can’t. They’ve got a business to run, money to make. An agent has to be passionate about your work to bring it to the market. And New York is crawling with agents. Chances are, if you write decently enough, and you can work through Rejection Hell, you’ll find someone who will fall in love with your book.
But, like Marilyn said, you’ve got to want it more than all the other writers in the room.
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