What I Learned From My First Rejection Letter

I’ve received my first rejection letter. YAY! I’m part of the community now… right?

rejection letter

My journey into agent submissions has been an odd process. In 2013 I pitched my first novel, Girl Tries Life, successfully to a New York agent. She was read a few pages and was pumped. I loved this agent from her bio. She got me. We were destined to be together. Or so I thought… until I never heard back from her. Ever. Turns out that she took an indefinite leave from the publishing world for family reasons. I ABSOLUTELY respect her for this, but to say I wasn’t a little disappointed would be a complete and utter lie.

Enter year 2 at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. There was no agent on the list that I felt was a perfect match. Agents were looking for romance or sci-fi, fantasy or non-fiction. Women’s fiction was a trickier one. My novel isn’t a pure romance. This is not to say there’s not a huge romantic element, there is, but most people would classify it as women’s fiction. I found an agent that more or less fit, she liked the premise and wanted to see it.

Five months later I received a rejection email.

It wasn’t bad. In fact, it was the kindest rejection letter you could probably get. She said that I have some strong writing skills, she continued to like my premise, but the story didn’t grab her enough to represent it.

Regardless of how positive a rejection that is, it still hurt. Any writer who says rejection is easy is lying their face off. Walk away from them…slowly. Next I did what any self-respecting writer would do. I bought and ate an entire bar of Cadbury milk chocolate, cookie dough flavour. Yes, the large bar. What do you think I am, an amateur?

Chocolate coma well and truly passed, I am now able to think about what I’ve learned from my first real rejection letter.

I Am A Professional

It would be so easy to curl up in a ball and pretend it never happened, to ignore the email or hit delete. Instead I chose to write a professional note back, thanking her for her time and for her feedback. It does me no favours to bury my head in the sand, and honestly it is a lot of work for the agent to put in. She read fifty pages! She’s a busy woman and she read and considered my fifty pages, when I know every agent is swimming in submissions. The least she deserves in return is a thank you from me, even if she didn’t sign me as a client.

Not Everything is Right for Everyone

Coincidentally, the week that I got my rejection letter was the same week that I heard back from two of my beta readers. They both loved it. I’m not blowing my own horn here, those were seriously their words. One of my betas in particular reads everything, has discerning taste and is definitely the tough-love kind of friend. She would tell me if I wrote a stinker. This isn’t to say it’s not without room for improvement. Teacher-in-training that she is, she provided me with a good set of notes to move forward from.

I don’t believe in the saying, “it’s not personal, it’s business.” Writing is an immensely personal process. What I do believe is that not everything is right for everyone. This agent was not the right fit for my book and that’s okay. I just need to keep sending it out until I find my right match, while continuing to improve my work.

Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

I was not pinning all of my hopes on this one agent. While my work was sitting with her for review, I was off galavanting in Southeast Asia, so I wasn’t exactly twiddling my thumbs. That said, five months is a long time to wait to hear feedback. If I’ve learned anything for next time, it’s that I will submit to multiple agents at the same time. I remember talking to the great Canadian YA author, Eileen Cook, at SIWC and her advice was to make your wish list of twenty or so agents. Send out pitches to your top five at the same time, and as you receive rejections, scratch that name off and move to the next one down the line. My time is valuable.

Get Back on the Horse… er… Laptop?

Taking a break from writing because of rejection is like avoiding the scale after a chocolate binge… says she who just scoffed a large bar of chocolate, ahem. You’re delaying the inevitable and a much needed reality check. Getting back to writing and to reading my beta reviews showed me that my writing is worthwhile and there are people who want to read it. If I’d avoided it, who knows how long I would have sat in a useless pool of misery. Shudder.

At the end of the day, I count myself lucky to have had such a positive rejection experience. A key piece of advice from a friend rang loud and clear. She said that writing is for the tenacious.

I am tenacious.

Rejection isn’t contained to the writing community. How have you handled rejection, whether for a job, a writing opportunity or for something you truly desired? What did you learn from it? 


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3 Responses to What I Learned From My First Rejection Letter

  1. Nicole March 13, 2015 at 5:08 pm #

    You’re my fave

  2. Irma March 17, 2015 at 5:58 pm #

    I heard that Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie, was rejected 30 times. Keep going!!!

    • Victoria Smith March 17, 2015 at 11:34 pm #

      Lol, thanks Irma!

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