You may have recently submitted your first manuscript to an agent or publisher and received the dreaded rejection letter (or eternal silence). It’s not easy to deal with this when you acknowledge the time and effort it took you to finish your project. But a little change of perspective can make these rejections useful without the need to resort to overt positivism or delusion. Here are 5 tips on what to do if your manuscript gets rejected:
- Check for feedback on the letter. Sometimes, your rejection letter may come with some feedback on your writing. It could be basic and general (for example, that more needs to happen straight away, that you need to establish scene stakes quicker) or more specific (that your first pages are too heavy on exposition, that a character isn’t likeable, that the transition between one chapter and the next has issues with plausibility, or even that you overuse adverbs). And yes, it’s true that you may be unwilling to change one of those aspects, that maybe it compromises one of the main ideas behind your novel. Still, it’s worth taking these comments seriously and act on them if necessary to avoid similar comments on the next submission. When an agent or editor gives you feedback despite rejecting it, it means your writing invited a closer reading – it doesn’t always happen, and within the context of rejections, it’s a good sign.
- Be thankful an editor or agent took the time to read it. It is normal to feel a little frustrated, especially with the more standard rejection letters you may get. But thank the editor or agent for taking the time to read your work. Be kind because there is no real joy at either end of the equation when it comes to rejections, and bad reputations are easily spread.
- If they mention that you should get back to them with future work, don’t take that lightly. It may be the case that this specific project wasn’t for the person you sent it to. However, there are instances in which they’ll tell you to keep in touch with future work. It may feel like a platitude, a light way to let you go, but it isn’t the case. Most agents and editors are very aware that what they say impacts your next move – they’ve worked with new writers after all. If they tell you to get back in touch, don’t hesitate to do so with a new project and reference any previous contact in your new letter.
- It doesn’t mean that you should abandon a project. A common reflex when facing a rejection is to abandon your book entirely, maybe out of fear of more rejection, or a sense of pervading shame that comes naturally to those who aren’t used to showing work outside of university or a writing course. You may, however, find that the necessary changes a book needs may come years later.
- But Is it ever time to let go? Books and ideas will age with you, and they’ll be shaped and reshaped according to your new experiences and outlooks on the world. If you find that a book is so tangled up with who you were in a way that finds you frustrated at the mere thought of editing it, it may be time to leave it. The truth is that not everyone makes it on their very first project, that some of them fall short of that perfect initial idea but that doesn’t mean that you, personally, are not good enough.
Gonzalo C. Garcia is a writer and Senior Teaching Fellow in Creative Writing in the Warwick Writing Programme. His recent novel, We Are The End, is heavily influenced by his marked interest in Santiago de Chile, video games, digital culture and everyday constructions of narrative. It was nominated for the Edinburgh Festival First Novel Award 2017 and launched in October with Galley Beggar Press.
Directed by Sarah Moss, the Warwick Writing Programme at University of Warwick prides itself in having writing staff who not only teach but are also published authors involved in the writing industry and literary scenes. It has just opened an exciting PhD programme in Creative Writing (https://goo.gl/3pdiB9) alongside its internationally recognised flagship BA and MA programmes.
For more on the Warwick Writing Programme: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/english/writingprog/