The First Rejection
I’ve spent the last year writing my novel. On long flights with a glass of Pinot Grigio next to my laptop. In 30- or 60-minute increments at the end of work days. Early on Saturday mornings while my husband sleeps. On all my vacations. I’ve written these 75,000 words in the periphery of my life, and just over a month ago, I decided it was time to bring them into full view.
For the non-writers, I’m currently in a stage called querying. A query letter effectively sells your book, talent, and experience to a literary agent, or a publisher should you choose that route. It’s one page that sums up your entire book and all your professional experience. It’s less restrictive than a resume but still follows a format—and still plays a major role in determining your future. I’ve sent out 6 queries so far.
It takes about 6-8 weeks to get a response, the first of which I received Sunday night—a rejection.
A polite one, mind you. To sum it up: “I’m not interested but don’t give up. Someone else might like it.”
The message hasn’t changed much from 12 years ago, when I last queried an inferior version of my current novel. But it still leaves a mark.
What is it about the first rejection that stings the most?
You’ve sent those first letters out, high off the exhilaration of finally finishing your work, of finally feeling confident enough in what you’ve produced to share it with the world, finally moving one tiny step closer to achieving your writerly dreams.
And there, in a few generic, impersonal sentences, with no specific feedback or advice, you’re deflated. You are told no.
People often say that most of writing is rewriting. But it’s also feedback. It’s criticism. It’s inhibitive fear. It’s constantly questioning whether you’re good enough, if your idea is bankable enough. And when you overcome all those other internal obstacles, it’s about rejection.
James Baldwin was told Giovanni’s Room was hopelessly bad. Jack Canfield, creator of the megawatt Chicken Soup for the Soul series, was rejected a whopping 134 times before he got a yes. 16 publishers rejected John Grisham’s A Time to Kill. J.K. Rowling was rejected 12 times before getting a yes. And there are tons of other stories about wildly successful authors who once struggled to get a foot in the door.
Not to equate myself with those authors, but I know this isn’t easy. You don’t reach that level by giving up at this stage.
I would know—this is where I fizzled out last time. I got a handful of rejections, mostly form letters, which I imagined being much worse than they actually were, and I quit. Rather than recognize that my manuscript needed major work, I decided I was pursuing a path that wasn’t my destiny.
I was wrong. I was, and still am, destined to be a writer. I’m just a bit more equipped to handle the resistance now.
I know how this works; I’m not expecting to find myself at the center of a bidding war. I know it only takes one yes. I know there will be more no’s. But still, I can’t help but feel a little less optimistic, even if just for a moment, after reading that first rejection letter.
But at least I’m here, right? I’m past the outline. I’m past the first draft. I’m past the hesitation and fear that dooms so many other writers and stops them from ever reaching this stage. That’s something; an accomplishment, one that doesn’t provide any rewards beyond a feeling of relief or personal satisfaction, but an accomplishment nonetheless.
I’ll keep waiting, checking, counting the days and weeks between my submissions and responses. I’ll keep querying. I’ll keep pushing until I wedge my foot in the door of the publishing industry.
I’m not giving up this time.