The Best Way to Handle Rejection

I recently completed (for now, of course), my novel The Pathfinder, and I have been embroiled in the grueling process of finding an agent to represent me, and failing that, a publisher willing to take it on.

If you’re a writer, you know this is the worst part of being a writer. Now, I’m not talking your backyard, “Yeah, I took a class and wrote a story and it was mostly about me at five years old when I was clinically depressed and my uncle and/or aunt was overly fond of me” sort of writer. I’m talking about those of us who have an inborn compulsion to be published, self-sufficient authors, if not world-famous and vomitously wealthy, and who also therefore have a compulsion to have the powerful people in the publishing industry spit in our faces. Repeatedly.

You spend a week copiously poring over the Writer’s Digest, picking out the agencies that accept work from new writers, from unpublished writers, who have even a remote fondness for your particular genre. You spend another week crafting that most elusive of writer’s tools, the perfect query letter – the one that hooks them, that shows them how professional you are, that hides how inadequate and insecure you are, is free of typos or glaring errors, that avoids references to your mother, and all fits onto one page.

If you’re really intent, you peruse each agency’s website, in order to make sure your query is perfectly directed, that you’re not committing some faux pas by relying on the Writer’s Digest entry that may, after all, be a year old. You create a spreadsheet to track your submissions, to record each minute detail you learn about these agents. You are not above googling their MySpace pages.

You send out your queries, and of course, since no two agents want the same information, you spend yet another week creating custom packages (email, snail mail, sample chapter, synopses, author bio…how many combinations can they come up with? It’s exponential!!!).

And then you wait. You wait for the inevitable rejections, what I call the “you suck” letters. If you’ve done this a time or two already, you know you’ve just set yourself up for a fall, as though you’ve set a goal to ask out every single one of the Victoria Secret supermodels, or each member of the Man U soccer team.

The e-queries come in first. Somehow, the agents have managed to recreate the form letters electronically. Some have submitted to web-ese so far that they don’t even capitalize the beginnings of their sentences. I’m waiting to get that rejection letter that says “ur book iz the suk. lolz, ZOMG!!1! gd luck with that 1, bro.”

Then the snail mail queries trickle in. Sometimes the rejection form letter has been xeroxed so many times it’s not even legible. Sometimes the guy hasn’t even wasted paper on you – they just scribble “no thanks” in the margin of your carefully crafted query letter. Worst of all are the ones who can’t even take a moment of their day to tell you they think you suck – “If you haven’t heard from me in 6 weeks, I’m not interested.”

I get it, of course – all agents are overwhelmed, and can’t take the time to worry about egos. We writers truly shouldn’t take the rejection so hard, because it’s not personal. It’s business. Nonetheless, the politely phrased “no”s can’t help but injure, in the same way it hurts to never be quite the right candidate for a coveted job.

I’ve managed, however, to avoid most of the ego-trouncing snail mail you-sucks this time around. How? you’re thinking. Those are the worst – tangible evidence in your hand that someone doesn’t think you’re good enough. Emails are oh-so easy to delete and pretend they never existed at all, but those paper rejections drive nails into your poor overgrown, tenderly writer’s heart.

I cheated. I had them all sent to my mother’s address.

In my defense, I’m currently in the UK, and the postage situation if I had them all sent here was a nightmare. It was easier to have the SASEs returned to a US address.

Of course, I did not realize the emotional effect this would have on my mom.

She’s almost to the point she won’t open the envelopes, now that she recognizes them. She certainly won’t make a list of the rejections so I can check them off my spreadsheet. “It’s so humiliating!” she wails. After only two you-suck letters, she was ready to quit as a writer – and this is a woman who has had me write her letters and emails for the past 15 years. “It’s just mean. That’s what it is. How can Michael Crichton get that god-awful Next book, with no story whatsoever, published, and you can’t get anyone to look at this one? What’s wrong with them?!? They’re just mean. I just want to call them up and tell them ‘it’s a good book – it really is! What’s wrong with you people?’ I could never do what you do. It’s not even fair.”

Yep, it sucks. But for the first time, I’m getting some great humor out of the horrifying process. I never want to be that writer, of course, whose mother verbally reams out the agents who thought my work just “wasn’t right for them at this time,” but holy shit is the idea of it precious. I can just imagine the conversation:

AGENT: X Agency, Agent Meanie speaking.

MOM: What’s wrong with you people?

AGENT: I’m sorry?

MOM: There are good books out there! I read, I’ve seen what you pick, what gets published.

AGENT: I know that, I really do try to find good auth–

MOM: Apparently, you don’t. I read that book about robots. I even read the book about stealing people’s DNA. I read romance novels, for Christ’s sake! I know that what is out there is shit.

AGENT: Yeah, Michael Crichton should really just stick to ER, I’m with you there.

MOM: My daughter’s book is good. But you just send back these mean letters. “Not for me.” “No thanks.” “Good luck finding someone else.” You’re mean, all of you are mean and unfair and you wouldn’t know talent if it splatted on your nose!

AGENT: Well, my name is Agent Meanie. By the way, what’s your daughter’s name, so I can be sure to add her to the “Crazy family – do not accept under any circumstances” list?

It does bring some light into my humdrum life. That, and I remind myself daily that Jasper Fforde wrote (and submitted, and was subsequently rejected) seven novels over a period of ten years before an agent responded favorably to The Eyre Affair. Don’t believe me? The rather indirectly inspiring interview is on Writer Unboxed.

So in the end, my solution is to keep, keep, keep trying. And use your mother’s address.

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