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Monday, March 24, 2008

Rejection and the Writer – Part 2: Responding to Rejection

Last time, I wrote about ways to help deal with the rejection you’re bound to face as a writer. But once you’re past the shock and the sting, what then? Even if bad news doesn’t faze you, and you’re filled with the hope of a small child and the patience of a Jedi master, a rejection can still trip you up if you respond to it the wrong way. Today, we’ll examine the right ways, and the wrong ways, to respond to bad news.

Responding to Rejection

So, you’ve just gotten a letter in the mail, addressed in your own handwriting. There’s no question that it’s from an agent because you remember licking the stamp yourself. You rush inside to open it, your heart racing with the possibilities, and you pull out the piece of paper inside.

It’s bad news. But, hey, at least it’s bad news with your own name on it and a real signature from the hand of a real person. Or maybe it’s just a “Dear Author” form letter with no signature at all, or maybe a fourth-generation photocopy of that letter, so faded that you have to squint at the text. Just as rejections come in many kinds, so too do your possible replies. Let’s look at your options:

No Reply at All. More than just a Genesis song, this is usually your best response. When you send a query to an agent, you’re requesting a chance to open up a dialog. When the agent politely (or not so politely) declines, then the dialog is at an end. There’s little need to follow it up, because the agent isn’t expecting you too. When you take the cost of postage into account, along with the fact that you’d need to include another SASE to get any additional response, you’re better off putting those stamps on another query letter.

The Quick “Thank You”. This one is best suited to email rejections, especially those that give you a little insight into the reasons why your work was rejected. A little note to the agent saying, “Thanks for your time. I appreciate the feedback,” costs you nothing and may even encourage the agent to give more feedback in every rejection he sends. In this case, the worst that can happen is that your thank-you will be ignored. There’s little chance, if any, that a polite thank you could ever be wrong.

The Request for More Information. Requesting more from an agent who’s turned you down is tricky, and more often than not, not worth the trouble. This kind of follow-up is best used in those rare instances where the agent’s letter leaves the door open to you (even if just a crack), with a request to see a different project, or a suggestion that your material may need a rewrite. In these cases, it could be appropriate to request clarification, or even ask that the agent allow you to resubmit your work with revisions. Just use your best judgment, and a little caution.

The Argument.
The agent rejected you, but surely there must be some kind of mistake. If she’d just take another look at your work, she’s bound to see the error of her ways. Besides, the feedback she’s given you is way off base. If you just explain it to her and ask her to read it one more time, she’s sure to want to represent you. Right?


Oh, so wrong. Like the commercial says, you only get one chance to make a first impression, and once it’s gone, it’s gone. Concentrate your efforts into making a better query and a better presentation to the next agent you approach.

The Insult. I find the siren song of this kind of reply to be loudest when I get a rejection that’s downright dismissive. The aforementioned fourth-generation photocopy, with bonus points if it’s on less than a full sheet of paper, and extra credit for ragged, torn edges. It never fails to get me fired up to write a letter that begins with the words “Dear Jerkface”.

But I don’t write that letter. Okay, maybe I do write it in my head, but I never put it down on paper or in an email. Why? Because “Dear Jerkface” letters never work. All they do is prove to the agent in question that he made the right decision in rejecting you. It tells him you’re not professional, far too emotional, and likely to be a bad client. Channel your righteous indignation into something positive, and put that energy into your writing.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned until next time, when I talk about some big changes that are on the way. In the meantime, get back to writing!

Christopher Hawkins

1 comment:

white rabbit said...

I occasionally respond to form e-mail rejections with...


I know it's childish but there ya go ;)