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It’s not you, it’s me - How to deal with rejection like a pro

Sometimes an author feels they have the perfect manuscript in their hands, and yet they still suffer rejection at the hand of traditional publishers. It might not be your work that’s being passed up, it could be any number of things. Here are some tips on how to bounce back from rejection.

J.K. Rowling recently revealed a couple of rejection letters she had received under her pen name of Robert Galbraith. The rejections were for her book The Cuckoo’s Calling, which was eventually published in 2013 by Sphere, and has been picked up by the BBC for an adaption for television.

One letter, from Constable & Robinson, said “we have reluctantly come to the conclusion that we could not publish it with commercial success”.

The letter goes on to suggest politely that ‘Robert Galbraith’ "double check in a helpful bookshop" or in the twice yearly "buyer's guide of Bookseller magazine", about who the current publishers of his fiction genre are.

The letter adds "a writers' group or writing course may help" ‘him’ to get constructive criticism of his debut crime novel.

The Cuckoo’s Calling wasn’t Rowling’s first rejection. She received twelve in a row, via her agent, Christopher Little, until the eight-year-old daughter of the Bloomsbury Chief Executive demanded to read the rest of the book, saying it was "so much better than anything else". Bloomsbury agreed to publish, paying Rowling a £2,500 advance, but advised Rowling to get a day job since she has little chance of making money in children’s books.

As we all know, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone spawned a movie, several video games, and of course all the sequels, the last four of which set records as the fastest selling books in history.

This all goes to show that sometimes, despite what people may say, it’s not you or your work. So how can you take that rejection and use it to get accepted?

It’s not about you

The first thing to realise is, like mafia cliches of old, it’s nothing personal it’s just business.

It’s not you that’s been rejected, it’s your book. Sometimes it’s not even your book, it may just be that the publisher isn’t currently taking on submissions for that genre, or they’ve got some similar books already in production and don’t want to dilute their efforts.

Don’t take it personally

Rejection is an inevitable part of being a writer, accept it as part of the process and it’ll get easier. You will get rejected, a lot, but when you eventually get accepted it will all be worth while.

You could get a comment like “It’s not suitable for our imprint” or “It doesn’t fit in with our strategy”. That simply means that the book isn’t right for them, not that your book isn’t right. You could also get something along the lines of “We don’t see a market for this book” or “It’s not commercially viable”. That means that they can’t see how they’re going to sell it, not that it can’t be sold.

Your manuscript might be too long, or too short, too early, too late. There are hundreds of reasons a book can be rejected, and none of them are about you.

Don’t take it as a set back

You can’t become a success without putting yourself out there. Rejection is validation of trying, but not a reason to quit.

You lose 100% of the chances you don’t take.
As Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred, famously said “Why do we fall Master Bruce? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up again.”

Learn from the rejection

If you’re lucky, you’ll have a little feedback, explaining where you might be falling short and what you can do to fix it. However, this feedback is rare, so you have to read between the lines. You might not be able to figure out what from just one rejection, but after a few you should be able to see a pattern.

Embrace criticism

If you’re lucky, you’ll get a letter telling you where you’ve gone wrong, but with some tips on how you can improve your writing style, the story, the tone, etc. This is a sign that the editor is interested, but you’re not quite there yet. Grab these with both hands and use them to make your work better. Once you’ve covered all the points, resubmit, and you may find that your book will get accepted.

Some rejections can be mean

Don’t worry about them. The editor may have just been having an off day, and your manuscript was the next thing on their list. One person’s opinion does not invalidate your work. If you do get a rejection which is biting in tone, and not constructive at all, ditch it. Throw it in the bin and move on. There’s no point dwelling on it.

Check the guidelines

Sometimes, it could be nothing about you or or book, and could just be an issue with how you’ve submitted the manuscript. Check, check, check the guidelines and then check them again. Make sure you’ve ticked every box, and done everything perfectly. Editors get untold amount of book submissions, and if yours stands out from the rest for the wrong reasons it will be the first in the rejection pile.

Wear your rejections with pride

Keep hold of them. Every rejection is a milestone on the road to being accepted, you should be proud. They’re your battle scars. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Stephen King used to keep all his rejection letters. “The nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and kept on writing.”

Don’t reply to the editor

Seriously, leave them alone. Replying to a rejecting editor is only bad news. They will not respond to begging, cajoling, or threats. If they’ve rejected your book then no amount of contact is going to make them reconsider it in its current form.

Definitely do not reply with something like “You just don’t understand my amazing book! You are so stupid!” and stamp your feet. They will not take it kindly, and could possibly burn you in the industry.

Writing is subjective

Books are essentially works of art and, bar glaring technical writing errors, can’t be said to be definitively bad. There are things that one person likes that another doesn’t and vice versa. Go to any bookclub and you’ll get several different opinions on what a story was trying to say.

Don’t consider it rejected.

Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address.Barbara Kingsolver

Don’t worry about an editor rejecting because they didn’t seem to like it. It’s clearly not for them, and they wouldn’t be able to sell something they didn’t enjoy. You just need to keep looking for the editor who will love it.

Let us know below how you deal with rejection, and be sure to sign up to our newsletter which includes tips and tricks, and special offers for our services, including ready-made book covers and designs, eBook formatting, and promotional tools.

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