Moving Forward After Rejection as an Author

Every author we’ve ever met has experienced a rejection of some kind: from an agent, a publisher, a writing program, you name it! While it can be frustrating or disheartening, it’s totally normal and part of a writer’s life.

This week on our blog, we’re asking our authors to share about a time they’ve experienced a rejection during their writing career — and also how they moved past it, and where they’re at now in their publishing journey. These relatable, thoughtful stories remind us that we’ve all “been there,” and hopefully encourage and inspire us to keep writing!

20+ Rejections, 19 Drafts — and an Instant NYT Bestseller
“I received 20+ rejections by literary agents on WINGS OF EBONY while querying and several from editors. And yet, WINGS OF EBONY debuted as an instant NYT bestseller. Back when I was querying, when all I had were those rejections in my hands and not a glimpse of what could be possible if I’d persisted, hope is what held me together. A sense of stubborn tenacity that wouldn’t accept I couldn’t get this book on shelves.

I wish I had some kitschy practical six steps with funky cool alliteration you could do to handle rejections to your writing, fix the problem, or write a book that’ll never see a rejection! But I don’t. Because that’s impossible for many reasons, one of which is the very nature of writing is incredibly subjective so what’s good to one agent or editor may not resonate with another. The same is true for readers. Rejection can also be instructive, motivating, depending on how you frame it. Just try to not let it frame YOU. Remember, the greatest tool in your toolkit when facing rejection — because it’s inevitable and recurring — is persistence.

I rewrote WINGS OF EBONY multiple times. The copy on shelves is draft nineteen. NINETEEN. As cliche as it sounds, keep trying. Belief in yourself is what’s ultimately going to get you there.”

— J. Elle, author of the New York Times bestseller Wings of Ebony

All About the But
“It’s always about the but.

‘Hi Sid, thanks so much for sending! I did receive and I dove in this past weekend but I’m afraid it’s not quite right for my list. I’m so sorry to disappoint. Thank you again for sharing your work with me. It was a pleasure to connect and best of luck with the book!’

This ‘but’ came from a prominent agent, and I received a few more before finding an agent and a publisher for the first installment in my Seventh Flag trilogy. It was a new experience for me. As a Pulitzer-nominated war correspondent for a major news agency, I would write several stories a day knowing that they would be accepted, edited and published. I found inspiration knowing that Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, one of the best-selling books of all time, was rejected by more than 100 publishers, and that Vincent Van Gogh never sold a painting while he was alive. Thankfully, I lived to see my art published, and you will too if you stay positive and resolute.”

— Sid Balman, author of the Seventh Flag Trilogy (second installment due out Aug. 3, 2021)

The Art of Not Giving Up

“It was November 2017. I had finally finished writing, editing, and polishing the manuscript for my debut novel, a manuscript that took me ten years to complete. I had done my research and had my list of agents to go. Fingers crossed, I plunged into the querying trenches.

At first, it was great. Most of my queries turned into full or partial manuscript requests. My hopes started to build even as the dreaded waiting process began. By mid-December, one by one the rejections started to come in. Everyone knows that querying is brutal, and one usually gets more rejections than requests for representation. Still, I was heartbroken.

One of the criticisms I kept hearing was that my book was too long for middle grade. Typically, the word count for middle grade novels is between 50,000-70,000 words while mine was 91,000. Yikes!

As hard as it seemed, I knew it was the right thing to do. During the last two months of my pregnancy in mid 2018, I cut down 23,000 words and rewrote large sections of the book. Once my baby arrived, I sent the manuscript back to my beta readers to see if the new revisions maintained the plot, pace, and character growth. I began querying again. Long story short, I signed with my publisher in September 2019 and my debut novel, Rea and the Blood of the Nectar, releases June 2021!

Perseverance is key when it comes to writing a novel, and sadly, rejections are a big part of being a writer and becoming an author. But in my experience, it is through these rejections, setbacks, and challenges that we find what it takes to make our manuscripts better, our writing skills stronger, and determination greater. So, hang in there and don’t give up!”

— Payal Doshi, author of Rea and the Blood of the Nectar (releasing June 1, 2021)

An Unexpected Save

As our family struggled with my mom’s Alzheimer’s, I wrote a children’s picture book about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, Granny Can’t Remember Me. I heard from agents and editors that they liked the story but already had a book on the topic published or one in the works. After hearing this form of rejection time and again, I decided to publish it myself, and I floundered through three separate illustrators, dealt with many minute questions I’d never conceived of before (font type, size, bleeds), and waded into promotion and marketing. I was extremely happy with the end result and happy also that this lovely story has a voice.

I also write cozy murder mysteries, and wrote my first Fog Ladies book a long, long time ago. When I pitched this one to agents and editors, I was told, ‘We love cozies, but there’s no market for them right now. We want noir and edgy, vampires and zombies and goth and unreliable narrators.’ Then the world turned edgy, and cozies were back in. After years of trying to get my cozy published, I had two small publishers vie for my manuscript.

However, I did not waste all those years. The mystery was a much better version of itself when it was published, after I listened to critiques from conferences, agents, and a developmental editor. I reworked the story and made some crucial changes that I would have regretted not having if the book had been published in its original form. One feisty character, eighty-year-old Enid Carmichael, the apartment building’s unfiltered busybody, steals her neighbors’ grande latte coupons, unknowingly discovers whodunnit, and winds up in the ICU. Originally, she died at the hands of the killer, but several agents advised against killing off a great character, so she lives on now to bother tenants in the future books. Without the years of rejection allowing me time to reshape and rethink, she would be dead.”

— Susan McCormick, author of The Antidote (releasing May 5, 2021) 

An Evolutionary Solution

“I knew I had a story to tell, but figuring out how to tell it took years. I tried it as a novel, but kept hitting walls. I wrote it as a play. Then as a memoir. Sixteen years later, on the third rewrite, each with a different point of view, I finally nailed it. There is something to say for having an obsessive gene.”
— Margo Krasne, author of What Would I Do Without You?: A Collection of Short Stories About Friendships

Keep On Playing

“As a young professional singer, I encountered the ups and downs of trying to get my foot in the door. I managed, despite the challenges, to make my way in this world and am now spreading my writers’ wings. I wrote a poem about my former life as a singer trying to make it in New York City. The following is a portion of that poem:

‘Persistence’

Audition after audition after audition circles round and round and round
like an old phonograph turntable playing the same song over again and again.
Will someone not lift the needle and get me off this merry go around and around?
Singing careers teeter totter up and down, up and down on the great seesaw of auditions.
One letter of rejection follows another letter of rejection following yet another until
one day a miracle appears in the form of black typeset words on a white sheet of paper.
“We are happy to inform you….”

The above segment from my poem is analogous to writing. With persistence and determination, we craft our works in hopes that we/they will receive validation. For me, life as an artist has been my journey. Any successful artist has had to deal with disappointment and rejection at some point. The following quote from Sister Mary Lauretta (1905-1995), a Wisconsin science teacher, sums up my belief as an artist: ‘To be successful, the first thing to do is fall in love with your work.’”

— Christine Isley-Farmer, author of Finding My Yip