Manuscript Rejections


Submitting to literary agents or publishers is always daunting, because success is not guaranteed. There is no way around it – the reality is that writers will face rejection. But it’s how writers deal with and understand rejection that really counts.

Rejection shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing.

The word ‘rejection’ is already a negative word in everyday life – it means not good enough, unwanted or rubbish – so regardless of why a manuscript may have been rejected, the writer will automatically think it’s a rejection of them personally, simply because of the negative tones of the word itself.

Any rejection will feel like a punch in the guts. That’s the reality. It feels that way because writers invest months, even years, into a novel, only for someone to point out things wrong with it. Any rejection will make you feel disappointed and even dejected, maybe even angry. These are all normal responses. But the rejection is not about you. It’s not personal. The agent or publisher doesn’t know you. They’re scrutinising your work, not you.

The thing to remember is that agents and publishers receive thousands of manuscripts every year. That’s a lot of stories to sift through. The biggest mistake writers make is to assume they will be accepted first time on the basis their manuscript is ready for publication. That rarely happens, because novels are not as perfect for publication as the writer believes.

There are many reasons why agents and publishers reject work and most will explain those reasons in the rejection letter. That’s why any feedback should be seen as a positive thing – feedback of any kind is how we evolve and improve.

There are, of course, some agents and publishers who might not provide any response to a submission. If that happens, don’t dwell; just move on to the next agent on your list.

To deal with rejection effectively means you need to study the agent’s feedback objectively. The most common reaction is to put up the defensive walls and dig your heels in while your ego deals with the criticism to your obvious, amazing talent. But if you can’t take criticism of your work, then don’t be a writer. You have to expect it and embrace it. Most importantly, you need to learn to accept that to improve your writing.

Most agents and publishers will often point out some positive aspects of your writing in a rejection, as well the negatives. Maybe the plot is great, but the there is no pace. Maybe the characters are strong and well developed, but the story is weak or just plain boring. Maybe there are too many stock characters for the reader to care about them, or there is not enough description to lift the story from the page. 

Some reject a book because it’s not the right fit for them, or not a genre they want to deal with. It may be that they can’t sell a 140,000 word saga. Perhaps they feel the author’s voice isn’t unique or authentic enough or the story it’s just too complicated and as a consequence, it’s messy.

Other times, it might all be negative – the story is bad, the characters are underdeveloped, there’s no unique style, the writing is very flowery or clich├ęd and the grammar is terrible. It’s simply not good enough to be published.

So what are you going to do about it?

Don’t put the defensive walls up or dig your heels in. And try not to overreact. After receiving a rejection, step away from it and give yourself space and time to let it sink in for a few days. After the initial shock, re-read and understand the why your story was rejected. Carefully consider the editor’s words. Go back over your manuscript and look at the issues they raised. Often, this is when we realise they were absolutely right in their critique, so try to see the benefit of the rejection – how else will you know your flaws and weak areas and mistakes unless editors and agents point them out to you?

Criticism often challenges us – it motivates us to work harder, learn more and prove a point. It makes us better writers. It makes us determined writers. It makes us edit and rewrite and submit until we get it right.

Remember, a rejection is never about you, it’s more about the skill level and quality of your work, and whether it’s the right fit for the agent or publisher. Yes, it’s painful and tough, but it’s also necessary.  

Rejection doesn’t have to break you – it can make you a better, stronger writer.

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