Rejections—it's not you, it's me.

sammichThere used to be site called where people would post their rejection letters. Sadly, it’s been taken down or the operators failed to pay their bills or some printer’s demon got loose and did its evil work. Regardless, it was sort of morbidly fascinating, and not just because I recognized so many of my rejections among the many posted there. (Usually I would read what I’d written and feel that pleasant burr of recognition of something you’ve put out into the world. Sad, but true.)

What I found most interesting about the site was how very wrong-headed it was. After each reproduced letter, the rejected author would answer a series of questions: How did receiving this rejection make you feel? and What bothered you most about this letter? As though a rejection letter is some sort of assessment of the author herself, and not of the author’s work and how well it matched the editor’s tastes.

It’s not personal. It never is (unless the editor or agent knows you personally and hates you for that smelly thing you did at dinner that time—though even then, it’s likely not personal.) I’ve been doing this for ages, and in an easy ninety-five percent of the cases, the reason for rejection was simply that I didn’t love what I read. Period. And there are so many submissions and so few slots that an editor or agent has to really fall in love with a book in order to best serve it. Life is short and work is long and why fuss about with things you aren’t ass-over-teakettle crazy about?

Rejection letters aren’t about you. They’re about someone not “getting” your work. Feel disappointment, sure, but then square your shoulders, shrug, and think, “Your loss, punk!” and send it out again.

  1. Wow! I can’t believe there are no other comments. I find this post incredibly astute.

    In fact (I hope it’s okay to shamelessly self-promote and post links here) this is exactly what my blog is about. I am posting my queries, starting with rejections, and trying to give constructive analysis as to why they didn’t work. sounds like it was really depressing. I’ve tried to make my blog more optimistic and helpful (and hopefully occasionally funny or entertaining). But enough about me.

    Thanks for posting this Michael and I think you are 100% right. Obviously it’s not personal – how can it be when the agent has never met you? It also doesn’t even say anything about your REAL writing (unless maybe the agent allows sample chapters in queries) but only your query. It’s hard not to take it personal sometimes, especially at first, but it really isn’t. It’s simply a professional business opinion and decision.

    Agents have bills to pay too.


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