Staying Motivated Through Rejection

publishing querying
Staying motivated through rejection: a guide for querying writers

You’ve spent months drafting your manuscript, revising, and preparing your query letter. You’re ready to land an agent! But when you finally receive a response, your heart sinks— “Unfortunately, I will have to pass on this manuscript at this time.”

Getting that first rejection letter can feel crushing, and it might make you want to quit writing altogether. But don’t be so quick to abandon your dream! While all writers hope for quick success, even bestselling authors have experienced their fair share of rejection from agents and publishers before their books found a home.

So what should you do when you receive that dreaded rejection letter in your inbox? In this post, we’ll give you five tips for staying motivated while in the query trenches!

Send query letters in small batches

One of the best ways you can make rejection work in your favor is only to query a few agents at a time. Research the ones that are looking for the genre in which you write. If you send a query letter for your historical fiction to an agent that only accepts fantasy and sci-fi, you’re going to get an automatic rejection.

There are many agent directories online that can help find the right agent or editor, such as www.querytracker.net or www.PublishersMarketplace.com. Subscribe to podcasts for writers where you can listen to interviews with agents, editors, and publishers to gain valuable information. As you research, use a digital spreadsheet, or even a notebook and pen, to make a list of all potential agents that are looking for what you have to offer.

Once you have this comprehensive list, query only a handful. If you have a list of one hundred agents, choose no more than ten. Yes, it will feel frustrating to wait for responses, but nothing hurts more than sending out fifty query letters at once only to have your inbox pummeled with fifty rejections, many of which offer valuable feedback you could’ve used.

If you’ve already queried more than that, don’t panic! Just pause on sending out any more as you wait to hear from the ones you’ve already contacted.

Consider the feedback you receive in rejection letters

As you begin to receive responses to your query, track those responses in your a spreadsheet or notebook. Many rejection letters are form letters with no personalized notes. Some agents, however, will take the time to add a note explaining why your manuscript was rejected. Maybe your word count was too high for the genre. Maybe the main character isn’t fully fleshed out. Maybe your plot is too slow, or your storyline fell flat in the middle.

Whatever feedback you get, record it on your spreadsheet and then take that feedback into consideration. Remember, every response is a subjective opinion and you might even receive conflicting opinions from different agents!

Take your manuscript back out and look at it through the eyes of those who rejected it but offered feedback. Then begin to revise. Keep copies of each draft as you go so that as you receive different feedback, you still have the different versions of your manuscript saved.

If you aren’t receiving any personalized feedback at all, you might need to take another look at your query letter. If an agent’s interest isn’t piqued by your query, they aren’t going to spend any time looking at your manuscript.

Join critique or writing groups to stay active and get peer feedback

If you haven’t done so already, now is a great time to join a writing group. Whether it be a local group of writers who meet at the coffee shop, a Facebook group of writers within your genre, or even a paid membership that offers feedback or instruction, joining a writing group has many benefits.

Being a member of a group helps you feel connected with others who are going through the same process as you. You’ll be less likely to quit if you’re sharing your experience with other writers. Sharing your manuscript with writing peers can also help you tighten it up. Other writers might see areas of weakness in your manuscript that you can't see yourself.

When you get a rejection letter in the mail and are able to go to your writing group to express your frustration, you will receive support and advice, and sometimes that alone is enough to help you handle the rejection and keep moving forward in your writing journey.

Resend your next small batch after applying feedback

Now that you’ve made revisions based on feedback from rejection letters and your writing group, go back to your comprehensive list of agents and decide which ones you will send to next. Refer back to their agency website to make sure they represent your genre, and you have the correct name and agent information and send out that next small batch.

Once you hit send on your next batch of queries, it’s time to move on to your next writing project! As a writer, you should be writing every day, not just sitting around waiting around for an offer. If you do that, it will be a long time before you complete your next novel! You’ve already learned how to respond to, and grow from, a rejection letter, so put that knowledge and experience to work while you wait and tackle your next project.

Should you respond to a rejection letter?

In a word— NO! It’s understandable that you may feel the urge to reply to an agent after being rejected. Maybe you’re hurt or angry. Maybe you just want to thank them for their time (and show them how polite and professional you are). Either way, it’s best not to respond to a rejection letter. The agent isn't expecting you to write back after they pass on your book. And an angry email, especially in response to a form letter, will only burn bridges in the publishing industry. Agents talk!

As personal as rejection feels, know that it’s not a reflection of you or your story’s worth. One agent’s “no” is another agent’s “yes!” Rather than stewing on it, it’s important to keep moving so that you can find the best person to represent your book.

There is one exception to this rule, however. If the agent has invited you to revise and resubmit— that is, send them your manuscript again after applying their suggested changes— then you can safely respond, thank them for their feedback, and let them know if you plan to submit again.

Put these steps into action

With these tips in mind, you’ll be able to look at those rejection letters as an opportunity for growth and not a crushing defeat. Start with that comprehensive list of agents or editors you plan to submit to, and start with your top selections. As you receive feedback, track it on your list, noting any personalized feedback you receive so you can always refer to all of your feedback on this one list. Join a writing group to stay connected, motivated, and to receive even more valuable feedback. Revise, resubmit, and move on to the next on your list. Soon, the letters arriving in your inbox will be offers and requests!


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