When “It Only Takes One Yes” Stops Working: Ideas for Managing the Emotions of Rejection
Rejection is a permanent part of an author’s life. It never goes away. Not when you finally get an agent, or that book deal, or that starred review, or even the Newbery. If it isn’t agents rejecting you, it’s editors, and then readers and awards committees and that random dude on Goodreads who thinks he’s God’s gift to kidlit.
I’ve been in this game for seven years now and the biggest thing I’ve learned is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for making the rejection not hurt so bad. After a while, hearing about how even JK Rowling got rejected by twelve publishers or that “It only takes one yes” just doesn’t help. So with that in mind, I’m going to give you a list of strategies to try when the pain of that “NO” won’t go away. If one doesn’t work, try a different one.
Remind yourself about how subjective this industry is
- . Look up your favorite book on Goodreads and then read all its bad reviews. If those people can hate something you love, then you can hold on to the truth that just because this agent/editor/reader didn’t like your book or want it, doesn’t automatically mean it’s a bad book.
2. Take the long view. This helped me a lot when I was querying. I thought about every rejection as one more paper I could add to my “pile of rejections” visual that I’d have someday at school visits. I told myself, “This will make a great part of my story when I write my ‘How I Got My Agent’ blog post.” Or, “I’ll remember this for my book launch.”
3. Focus on the positive. Keep a Google doc of all the nicest things your CPs or agents or editors have said about your writing. Go back through and read it when you start feeling like maybe you’re the most mediocre writer ever.
4. Instead of seeing this as a rejection, see it as a bullet dodged! You want an agent/editor who is absolutely one of your biggest fans. They have to read your work over and over and be enthusiastic about it to others. Trust me, you don’t want to be in an editorial relationship with someone who “mostly likes” your writing, or thinks it’s “good enough.” If an agent or editor doesn’t LOVE your work, then they aren’t the right agent for you right now. Period.
5. Write the next thing. I got this advice from the amazing Joy McCullough when it took a year on sub for my debut to sell. Waiting is hard. Getting rejected is hard. Distract yourself by writing the next thing. Not only is it a distraction, but what it really does is help you remember that you are more than just one book. And if that book in the sub or query trenches doesn’t work out, that’s okay! You’ve already fallen in love with the next one.
6. Do something about it! If you’re mostly getting rejections, it might be time to relook at your manuscript or your query, or the first chapter. Querying and submission can feel like nothing is within your power, but the quality of your work is always in your power. Wield it! Read a craft book, attend a conference, send your manuscript out to a beta reader who has never read it before, and get their thoughts. Sometimes rejection is pointing out that there is a problem. That’s not a terrible thing. Problems can be fixed. You can learn and grow and become a better writer. Don’t waste the opportunity that rejection may be providing you.
7. Going along with the point above, embrace the power of YET. Rejection is sometimes a sign that your writing isn’t quite “there.” You might not be a skilled enough author. These sentences can be hard to say. They can feel so discouraging. But facing them is the only way to become a great author. The people who are sure that they are amazing are the ones who never grow. There is no shame in recognizing this as long as you recognize that this is not a permanent state. You just need to add one more word: YET. “I’m not quite a skilled enough author . . . YET. My writing isn’t there . . . YET. But it will be, because I’m going to keep writing and learning and trying.” Once you are able to embrace this mindset, you can embrace rejection as a learning opportunity and not a judgment on you. You are always learning and growing. This rejection means nothing about the possibilities in your future.
8. Embrace the reality of LUCK. We don’t talk about it enough, but a lot of publishing success is luck. It’s your manuscript hitting the right desk on the right day. The first agent who offered on The Three Rules of Everyday Magic told me that the manuscript had really struck a chord with her because her grandmother had died a year earlier. I often wonder, if I’d queried her with that manuscript before her grandma had passed, would it have been one of those, “It’s great, but I just don’t quite love it enough” rejections? Very possibly. Different books are more meaningful at different times in our lives. You can’t control that. It may not make the rejection easier, but it helps put it in context.
9. Lastly, you don’t always have to handle each rejection with a smile on your face and a happy attitude. Rejection stings and sometimes you just need to allow yourself to feel the disappointment of it. Vent to your CPs. Take a bubble bath. Eat some chocolate. Cry it out. Feel it so you can let it go and then move on.
Rejection sucks. There’s no getting around it. But it doesn’t have to suck the life out of you. Think of it as practice. Even when it doesn’t feel like it, it’s making you a better author and leading you to where you need to be.
Amanda Rawson Hill grew up in Southwest Wyoming, with a library right out her back gate. After getting her degree in chemistry, she now writes heartfelt middle grade novels as well as picture books that range from poetic to humorous to scientific! She is the author of Three Rules of Everyday Magic and You’ll Find Me. Her upcoming novel is Once Upon a Family. She is also the cofounder of Middle Grade at Heart, a monthly book club newsletter. She lives in California with her husband, four kids, one dog, one cat, 3 Guinea pigs, and not enough space!