Why Rejection Makes You a Better Writer

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After a few weeks querying agents for my YA book, I needed to take a break and consider my progress. One agent, who I met and worked with in a critique group, sent me a personal rejection the same day I emailed her. Another agent, who loved the book at a retreat, sent me back her regrets. In prior years, with prior books, I would get no rejection letter at all. Only silence. Compared to no response, my recent rejections have led me to be more optimistic.

So I decided to make a list of how agent (and magazine editor) rejections have improved my writing:

  1. Book rejections make you realize that you need feedback on your writing before you send it out to agents.

 When I began my writer’s journey, I finished my rough draft and thought I had a masterpiece. I read a little of it to my friends, but I was sure that it was finished. Now I enlist the aid of critique groups, professional editors (not as expensive as you would think), writing retreats, and college extension classes before I send anything out.

  1. Agents have their own agendas.

They actually have to sell your book to publishers, who are even more jaded than they are. Agents have categories of books that they represent. If they already have enough magic books, they won’t be interested in your fantasy project. The lesson here is keep querying. You just haven’t met your agent yet.

  1. Being rejected by agents can lead to personal growth in your writing.

After getting several rejections on a book, I looked at all the comments that accompanied the passes. Agents are busy people, and if they take the time to tell me what they didn’t like about my work, I need to pay attention. This has led me to take writing classes at UCLA Extension, which I highly recommend. I also began submitting short stories to magazines so I could beef up my publishing credits.

  1. I appreciate all the hard work that goes into the books I read.

I read all the acknowledgments at the back of the novels I read, and count the number of people the author thanks. Have I exposed my WIP to that many people? Also, I was encouraged by an writer that had the courage to admit she had 17 novels rejected before she was published. Therefore, I need to stop my whining.

  1. Rejection makes me recommit to writing.

As the years pass, it would be easy to turn off the laptop and do something else with tangible results, like knitting. Writing is easy, revision is hard, traditional publishing seems nearly impossible. However, I’ve overcome many impossibilities in my life, and I’m not ready to die to my dreams yet. Rejection shows me that I haven’t reached that mountain peak— I’m still in the foothills. I need to keep walking.

  1. Rejection initiates me into the writing community.

All writers experience rejection at some time, and they can be a great source of encouragement to other writers. Joining Twitter and following other writers allows me to share in their joy and pain along the publishing path. Thanks, guys.

 

As you can see, rejection is not as negative as the gut punch you feel at first when you open that agent’s email reply. You get mad, cry a little, eat chocolate, drink a large glass of wine, and get back to work. And hopefully, after a lot more work, someday we’ll be sitting by the pool reading each other’s novels instead of this blog.

My first pitch at a writing conference

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Last Saturday was the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Editors Day at Cal State Fullerton. I was excited to hear presentations from the kind of people who would eventually decide the fate of my book. Over the past months I had attended conferences with advice from successful writers that was very practical. But they aren’t publishers.

What do editors and agents really think about writers? I’ve heard horror stories, although my personal experience has been the silence of unanswered queries or generic electronic rejections. Neither of which causes improvement in my writing.

When I received my name tag, my heart stopped when I saw the appointment time for my pitch session with an agent. When did I sign up for a pitch session? I never prepared for a pitch session. All day long, my hands shook as I scribbled notes from the various speakers. Some of the writers won the privilege of sitting with an editor or agent for lunch. However I was not, but later was grateful when my sandwich was spilling over with cream cheese and cranberries. I barely managed to eat it without wearing it for the rest of the day. And I had the opportunity to meet another blooming writer who was just starting down the path.

Much later, in the sleepy hours of the afternoon, it was my turn to walk down the hallway to the small door, and sit down next to the other rustling victims waiting for their turn. A much too cheerful well dressed lady asked my name and checked me off the list.

Then I sat, waiting.

Finally, the group before mine came out, and I noticed that no one was sniffling. I took it as a good omen as I walked in the door.

My interrogator, I mean agent, was a smiling woman with large glasses that made her appear as a young owl. We shook hands, and my story began. What started as an elevator pitch became a complete synopsis, encouraged by her questions. Even though I was a bit rattled, she encouraged me by sincerely seeking to understand my characters and their journey. She made astonishing suggestions that gave me a new perspective on my project. I never felt at any time that she would tell me to stop writing and do something productive with my life.

When I rejoined my newly met companions back in the lecture hall, I couldn’t stop smiling or writing down notes from my interview as fast as I could. It was all I could do to remain in my seat, not jumping up to return home and start making changes to my manuscript immediately. Why had I been so frightened? My new agent friend cared as deeply as I did about stories. Apparently that was the reason she worked in the publishing industry.

Writing needs feedback to grow just as flowers need water to flourish.

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