Rejection Isn’t Fun For Us, Either

“When am I going to stop feeling so bad about rejecting people?”

My husband muted the football game. “What?”

“When am I going to get thicker skin? When is it going to get easier for me to tell people no?”

Okay, I probably should’ve waited until half-time to get into this conversation. But I’d written a rejection letter that was bothering me. I can’t help it, I often feel bad about the rejections, especially if I’ve taken a special interest in the writer or the project. My compassion for the writer makes saying “no” difficult for me. I wish I could take every writer under my wing and nurture them all the way to publishing-readiness. Alas, it’s impossible.

Anyway, hubby had to sit through my agonizing and analyzing. I told him, “I hate ruining someone’s day.”

Well, first he told me to get over myself, I’m not so important that I can take credit for ruining someone’s day. Okay, fair enough. Then he said, “You know, every bit of MY job is about someone else having a bad day.” (Some of you may know my husband is a firefighter/EMT.) “When I show up,” he said, “it’s because they’re having a really bad day.”

Right. And your point?

“I don’t cause their bad day,” he went on. “I’m just there for it. I’m there to help.” Uh-huh. “And YOU don’t cause a writer to have a bad day, either. You’re just the messenger, delivering some hard truth. And you’re there to help, too. Sometimes you help by telling them a truth they need to hear. And other times you’ll help by improving their manuscript or by selling their book to a publisher. You don’t cause their good days or their bad days. But you show up for them. You’re there to help. Just like me.”

Huh. Wisdom from the cute guy on the couch. I have to admit, it made me feel better.

So if I ever send you a rejection letter, remember I’m not trying to ruin your day. Don’t imagine me sitting at my computer with an evil grin and a high pitched laugh, hissing maniacally, “I’ll get you, my pretty—and your little dog, too!”

I don’t relish the rejections. Just part of the job.

© 2010 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

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  • Aimee L Salter

    >I used to work in recruitment. 98% of my job was putting people through hoops, then telling them they didn’t get the job. And you’re right, it isn’t fun to make anyone feel bad. But it also isn’t your fault.In any race there’s only one winner. The good news is, in publishing the others are allowed to keep competing until they win too.

  • Meagan Spooner

    >What wisdom.I think this is important for writers to keep in mind as much as agents who get attacks of guilt and empathy when sending rejection letters. If more writers kept in mind that the agent isn’t CAUSING the bad day but merely giving the objective feedback that it’s not a good fit yet (maybe the first objective feedback some writers have received) then I think we’d get a lot fewer writers lashing out against agents who are just doing their jobs.

  • catdownunder

    >I think I would even welcome a rejection slip rather than no answer at all!

  • Pippa Jay

    >It seems the rejection process is no fun for anyone! I could accept rejections more if a few actually told me why I was being rejected. I’m all for constructive criticism, welcome it, but having ‘no thanks’ scrawled across my query letter is just painful. But I don’t let it ruin my day – if an agent didn’t like my writing and felt it unworthy of any further comment, then the relationship is doomed from the start and best never to begin. Don’t agonize over it! :)

  • Ilya Kralinsky

    >This is a business. If you’re not approaching your writing as such, prepare for years of rocking chair reading of stuff you saw roll across the word-processor screen from your own tapping fingers, with friends giving the occasional, “Yes, that was nice,” when they mean, “Wow, that was strange and long-winded.” The people who tell me no now may tell me yes later. You forget Tolstoy’s title, “God Sees the Truth but Waits.” The problem from the writer’s perspective blooms simply from the realization the majority of the business have their heads stuffed in their colons; the no is hasty, thoughtless, baseless, from the Manhattan cab-calling set who are so stressed evading panhandlers their eyes are closed in their very occupations. Everyone — I urge you — with this sort of clogged pipe mentality, go out there and learn your business while you sharpen your craft. Let the clogged pipes bust all over Manhattan and be there to clean up the void with your own published projects. I have been writing — always a student — for the past twenty years, and I have just published. That’s ridiculous. No? Saying no comes easily to me when this business walks on people who have dedicated lives and educations to this business, and it turns a blind eye. I’m glad to hear there are some feeling humans in the horrible machine. Good article, and to everyone — no sometimes becomes a yes. Stay persistent.

  • Anonymous

    >I just got two personal rejections on requested mss.–but they were so nice and helpful that I was grateful for the feedback. So yes, rejections can actually brighten your day if done with kindness and grace.

  • Ted Cross

    >I can’t query you anyhow since you don’t do fantasy. I like to imagine the agent cackling with glee as they pick out the form letter rejection they will use. It helps.

  • Ann Nichols

    >Your husband is a very wise man! And honestly, you can’t take on a project you don’t feel is right for you – Oh no…maybe I should check my emails before agreeing – am I the one you had to reject! :)Hope you have a happy week!AnnPS Don’t try to grow thicker skin – it’s the caring that makes a person good at their job!

  • Kate Larkindale

    >Telling someone something they don’t want to hear is never easy. And if it gets easy, then I think it’s time to leave that particular position. Having to reject people doesn’t make you a bad person, but enjoying doing it would.A subtle difference maybe, but an important distinction, I think.

  • Talei

    >I love this post and that photo. Great advice from Fireman hubby and don’t worry, -writers don’t pitch agents to make them feel bad either. At least I don’t think so. ;)

  • Steve Pritchett

    >Thanks for your honesty, Rachelle. It’s an emotionally charged business from either end. It helps to know that your heart is in it as deep as ours.

  • Deb

    >What catdownunder said. And if, by chance, you mentioned why you were rejecting someone, so much the better (but I understand that’s not always possible).

  • Tami Boesiger

    >This is what I love about you Rachelle–willing to speak the truth, but sensitive in it as well. And way to go Brain, I mean Brian!

  • susie @newdaynewlesson

    >Great post. Though all I kept thinking was that if that was my husband and I was interrupting his game (even at half time) he would have told me anything to make me shut up and go away. LOL

  • Sue Harrison

    >Rejection is part of the education. Thank you for caring, Rachelle.

  • Anonymous

    >It’s not about the rejection. It’s about not knowing why you are being rejected. I just hope that somebody in the publishing world understands what I’m trying to do. Writing and submitting takes a great deal of time and energy, so when I get a form rejection, well, that’s just torturous and unhelpful. What can one really do with that? Nothing. You may feel bad, but we feel worse. You’re probably one in a million. Hang in there. We need more people like you in the publishing realm.

  • Sherri

    >I must admit it took me a moment to puzzle out what you meant by your husband muting the football game, as this particular thing has never happened in my house. :)This could apply to just about every bit of guilt I have. Thank your husband on my behalf for the great reminder, and thank you for passing it along.

  • Pia Veleno

    >What a smart guy. Keep him around. ;-)

  • Julie Anne Lindsey

    >OK let me just say I wish I wrote something you represented because I’m loosing faith in the agents I see online these days. So many are more and more callous and flippant and it’s causing me to recoil. Sometimes I’m afraid to check their blog or twitterfeed. Its so refreshing and inspiring to hear you care about our feelings. That means you still see us (writers) as people. I don’t feel like “people” too often when I look to agents online for advice these days. Thanks Rachelle. This post shows where your heart is.

  • Susan Bourgeois

    >He’s right; there’s only so much you can do.It’s not only about you and what you think; it’s about taking it a step further.Writers have to know that from the start and the fact that each step is a hoop or a process they must get through in the hopes of getting published. You can only take them so far…

  • Marla Taviano

    >I like your husband. Most of my wisdom comes from the cute guy in the recliner. I don’t always appreciate it, but he’s pretty much always right.

  • Erin MacPherson

    >Your husband rocks!! I would feel bad about sending rejection letters, too, but your husband is totally right!!

  • Kelly Combs

    >Love this post. It’s never fun to be the messenger of bad news. But don’t shoot the messenger.

  • Jessie Andersen

    >Your hubby sounds like a very smart man!

  • angie mizzell

    >I tend to be a “yes” person. It’s hard to say no. But as I get older I’m learning that saying yes all the time isn’t necessarily helpful for me, or the other person. Rejection, at least in my case, usually hits at the heart of some deep place that I’ve been hiding from. And it’s usually the thing I need to face. I’m hard pressed to think of a time that rejection didn’t contribute to my personal and professional growth. Also, I think it pays to have a heart. It doesn’t make life any easier, but it’s worth it, I think.

  • Beth

    >Chalk up one for the hubby. Really, it’s not your fault if saying no causes someone to have a bad day, but I do understand that you wish you could say yes to everyone, because that’s definitely more fun.

  • Charity Bradford

    >That's one smart hubby you've got there. This was nice to see how rejection affects the agent. Thanks!

  • Cara Putman

    >Great wisdom in that. So glad that God gives us mates who help us gain perspective on our lives and the parts we don't enjoy.

  • Jaime

    >WHAT?! You don't have green skin and a long crooked nose? :) I never imagined agents relished sending rejections. And having met you, I can no more see you cackling than I can see you watching football :)

  • Rachelle

    >To those of you commenting on my smart hubby: You're right, and I think the fact that he's not even remotely involved (or interested) in publishing gives him a unique and very helpful perspective. He talks me off ledges all the time!

    Jaime: You're right, I don't watch football. But I often sit in front of the game with my laptop and pretend to watch. :-)

  • T. Anne

    >Your husband is not only wise, but perhaps a tad nicer than my own. My husband would have impatiently paused the DVR and struggled to listen through whatever it was I was saying. He might have answered something like, "That sounds good" and proceeded to flip the game back on. Unless of course it was a USC game, then all bets are off.

    I think writers as a whole appreciate thoughtful rejections. Sometimes it's nice just to be acknowledged, and a bit of helpful advice doesn't hurt either. Although I will tell you, this post probably inspired a whole lot of anxiety centered around inboxes today. Us writers tend to have a love, hate, relationship with our inboxes as it is. ;)

  • Chad

    >Rachelle, thanks so much for sharing this. I see much broader applications. I know in my day job, when I show up people are having a bad computer day, and sometimes I become the locus of their frustration. It's good to be able to step back, take a breath, and realize it's not about me.

    See my blog at http://blog.randomlychad.com if you like.

  • Wendy Delfosse

    >I know your husband has already encouraged you but I want to encourage you, too. From the writer's perspective: I've gotten rejection I think I could classify as form, personalized and silent. And it doesn't matter if it's because we're not a match, if they already have something too similar, or my writing isn't good enough – I'm not upset with the one giving the rejection. I'm not blaming the bearer of the news. My peace rests in Jesus and the rejections I've received haven't surprised Him. In fact, I'm grateful for some of them. Some of them have been encouraging. Some give me things I can improve on in my future novels. But even the form and the silent ones haven't stopped me from writing, from writing in hopes of traditional publication.

    Knowing that your words may hurt people and affect them is a good thing to be aware of. It's definitely good that you remember there's a person behind that query or MS. As a Christian if you're sending rejections in a way that honors Christ I'd encourage you very much not to let guilt grab a foothold. Hope this has encouraged you some, Rachelle. Have a good Monday!

  • Missy

    >I'm waiting on my rejection letters right now. I expect them b/c that's the norm. If you send me one, it won't ruin my day. Next year I will be a better writer, will have all my kids in school and my ms will be stronger. Plus I will have the next book started.

    Glad you have a husband who talks you off ledges. I've got one too. And mine does dishes.

  • Lucky Press, LLC

    >Your husband offered a very helpful way of looking a this. (I think your home was mirroring ours, as my husband watched football while I perused manuscripts and write those awful "no" letters this past weekend.

    Sometimes it helps if I can realistically say, "This is not a 'no' but a 'not yet.'"

    I really like your blog!

  • Kristen Torres-Toro

    >What a great analogy! Thanks for sharing this!

  • Melanie

    >Wow, it's amazing to hear you say this. This was probably a very much needed post for a lot of us wanna be (and already published) authors. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this. It really does put things into perspective.

  • Kathleen Rouser

    >Rejection is never fun, but hopefully it's something we can learn from. As writers we need to expect that an agent or editor may say "no" to us.

    The other thing is that we don't know what it's like to walk in your shoes, but you certainly don't strike me as someone who would enjoy handing out rejections. Good thing your wise hubby was there to give you a pep talk. Every job has it's down side, but I'm sure the good you do for your clients outweighs the bad and makes it all worth it.

    Thank you for your honesty in sharing.

  • Layla Fiske

    >Sweet. Sounds like you married a really nice (& wise) man. Good team.

  • Andrea

    >Wonderful post! It helps us writers to be reminded from time to time that there are people behind those rejection letters. I do have to say, though, that I much prefer anything to a form rejection. I had a manuscript rejected five times before the sixth agent finally told my WHY. Just one line in a two-line email, but it made a world of difference. I didn't hate that agent; I was ecstatic that someone had finally pointed out the problem with my manuscript.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Rebekah

    >Yes, agree. I'm co-editing and anthology and we hate sending out those rejection letters…especially when it is someone we know!

  • Anonymous

    >Homeopathic medicine really is a pure form of therapeutic!
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  • Anonymous

    >You did reject me, but it did not destroy my day. You gave me a lot of good advice which I put into action. I still have a long way to go, but I'm doing NaNoWrMo this month and having fun with it. Don't ever feel bad about rejecting someone. It's part of your job. Your blog is wonderful and I've learned so much from it! You give your best at your job everyday and what author or aspiring author could ask for more?

  • Anonymous

    >This is going to sound like tough love, but folks should be happy they even receive rejection letters at all. I'm surprised agents waste their time sending them out. No matter what someone says in a rejection letter, it still sucks to receive it.

    When I apply for a job, it's rare to receive anything when not selected for an interview.

    I really think writers have it too good. And, I think, agents are being too nice by sending rejection letters. How much additional time can you be spending with your family and clients if you did not send out rejection letters?

    However, some method should be used to acknowledge receipt of a query or ms even if it's automated.

  • Mary Aalgaard

    >Excellent post. Your husband sounds wonderful. I will no longer think of you and all the other evil editors and agents as having green faces and evil laughs. You're really just being there for us. Are you trying to say, "This hurts me more than it hurts you?" Anyway, thanks for your honesty.

  • Ishta Mercurio

    >I love your husband's take on this! Yes, it's true – you are just the messenger, delivering the hard but necessary truth. Thanks for this!

  • Beth K. Vogt

    >Wow, Rachelle–your husband's cute, a hero and he's wise too.
    Impressive.
    Tuck his insight into your back pocket for the next time you have to send a rejection to someone–and thanks for letting me borrow his insight and tuck it in my back pocket for the next time I recieve one.
    ;O)

  • Rick Barry

    >We already knew you are human, Rachelle, but it's still nice to see a post that touches on the human side of your business rather than simply the cut-and-dried reality of publishing.

    Once upon a time we were all little kids, and we went through a stage when we fell down regularly. Some of us probably even wondered why we fell down so often when older people don't. But rather than spend life crawling on our stomachs, we got up, dusted ourselves off, and kept trying until we got the knack of walking. Similarly, a literary rejection (which I prefer to think of as a "decline at this time") can hurt as much as falling down. But if God has given a person the skill and tenacity to be a writer, then that person will get up, dust himself/herself off, and learn from mistakes to try again.

    P.S. You have my permission to consider yourself Glinda, the good one who helps at least some people's dreams come true (even though they have to undertake most of the journey to the Emerald Publishing House on their own).

  • Kathryn Magendie

    >My co-editor/publisher and I have to send multiples of rejections every quarter for R&T – hate it – especially since I am a writer and have received them, dishing them out feels as if I have crossed over into the "dark side" – as if I am a turncoat . . .

    We try to be encouraging -sometimes good stories are rejected for various reasons and we hope the writer gets what we are trying to say to them.

    Rejection sucks – any side you are on. But, it's just a part of it and … all that other stuff we say to make us feel better insert here!

  • Judith

    >I help screen manuscripts for the editor of a small press. Just got three to review last week. Of the three, I only recommended that the editor read one.

    One was just not ready at all for publication. That's something the author can improve.

    Another was way to much of a financial risk – something I'd like to see published, but not financially justifiable. The author can do very little about the financial risk besides building a monumental platform.

    The third was worth the editor's read. And I still don't know if it will be chosen, or not. There are other factors at work of which I know nothing.

    Only one of those "rejections" has anything at all to do with the author. But it stings to have to say no — even if it's just to the editor. I have to remember that my purpose is to assist the editor in using time wisely by screening submissions. And I find it a rare privilege — especially when something I've recommended is chosen for publication. That's my "high."

  • Nadia

    >Thanks for caring, Rachelle! I've just had a great idea – that will make you and us feel much better! Why don't you add a checklist to your standard letter…

    Something along the lines of: Writing and market.

    That way you'll be giving an author a quick – but valuable – hint for them to consider themselves.

    Apologies if this is not a new concept – I'm new to all this!

    Best regards,
    Nadia

    (http://threechaptersandasynopsis.blogspot.com/)

  • Lucie Simone

    >The majority of the rejections I've received were courteous & professional, but I have to agree with Julie Anne Lindsey who noted a certain callousness so many agents are exhibiting online with complaints about writers' "mistakes" when querying or even their choices to go outside the Big Six to get published. Sure, there are a lot of novices out there making mistakes or making fools of themselves & perhaps causing agents undo grief. But why the need to ridicule them publicly? It just makes agents seem like the enemy & makes them even more intimidating. No matter your business, you should always conduct it with professionalism.

  • error7zero

    >Reject away. Most don't take it personal.

  • Renee Gold

    >All writers face rejection at one time or another.

    If we have the talent and the drive, and we follow your blog, we should eventually be able to get pubblished. You tell us everything we need to know.

    Thank you for the respect, Rachelle.

  • Renee Gold

    >That's "published"

  • Bill

    >Thanks Rachelle! I really never thought of any of the agents reading my query as evil, just inundated. I am brand new to this and I've only received a couple of rejections so far. The first was the only one that bothered me because it said "thanks but you're not right for us". A little detail would've been nice. After whining/blogging about it a bit and talking to some more experienced authors, I've realized that I am lucky to get any response at all. As a few other commenters mentioned, constructive criticism would be nice, but I realize that's impossible given the sheer volume of stuff that must flow across your desk. So I'll settle for just an honest 10 seconds of consideration and I think that is all any of can expect. And hopefully at some point, one of those 10 second windows will get my foot in the door somewhere! Thanks for sharing! BTW – you didn't dress up as a witch for Halloween did you?
    ;)

  • Anonymous

    >Writers need to present the best, most polished work possible and do their homework BEFORE they query. They should be running their manuscript through their writers group, giving it to trusted friends to find what's wrong, editing and re-editing. Any writer who takes the time and energy to perfect their manuscript then needs to research query guidelines and learn to write a proper query letter, synopsis, etc. It is a process, it is energy, it is time where anxiety and expectations build up. Yes, sending that rejection makes you feel a certain way, and I hate getting those rejections, but honestly it's part of the business that writers should expect. For some reason some writers have the expectation that their query will be handled like an artistic snowflake – delicate and pure and bursting with individuality. WRONG. Publishing is a business and a novel is a product that can either sell or can't. Commercialism is scary and TERRIBLE, rejection sucks and sometimes hurts, but it's also reality.

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