How to handle rejection like a professional

Toward Los Angeles, California (LOC)

(Part of a blog series: How to catch the eye of a literary agent)

You’ve finally finished writing your masterpiece.

You revise, edit, revise and edit again. You share it with those you trust. You find a professional editor. Again you revise, edit, rinse, and repeat, until you know your story is ready to share with the world.

You’re happy with your work. Your editor is happy. Your family and friends are happy. You send out a well-prepared query letter to a list of agents who are interested in your genre.

In a short time, strangers will be reading what is essentially you baring your soul.

Days pass.

Weeks pass.

Then the responses start to come in. And your reward for this emotional let-go?

A string of rejection letters.

Have you experienced this? If you’re a writer working to be published, then you either already have or you will. I have, and I’m sure I’ll have more letters to add to my file in the years to come.

In a Writer’s Digest article that is dog-eared from my use, literary agent Kimiko Nakamura of Dee Mura Literary says:

As disappointing as it is to receive a rejection, how you conduct yourself post-rejection will set the stage for any future communication with that agent.¹

Rejection. What’s a writer to do?

Accept and Prepare

The most healthy thing you can do as a writer is to expect and accept rejection. Do the research. Writers from all ages own this experience. You are not unique.

Next, you need to prepare for the inevitable rejection letter so that it’s about learning and making a good impression, and not a wholesale loss of confidence. You can decide that you’ll either use the experience to your advantage, as a professional does, or let it smother your creativity until you’re bitter or depressed.

Don’t Take It Personally

Literary agents are looking for new authors who fit their specifics. Nakamura assures us that sending out rejection letters is not something agents enjoy doing. But they do need to look out for the best interests of both the writer and the agency. The worst thing you can do is “email us a nasty response.” After receiving it, an agent will never look at your work again. Don’t take rejections personally. Take them like a professional and learn from the experience.

See Rejection as Striking Gold

Often, the rejection letter will give feedback that is beyond the usual form rejection. That bit of feedback from an agent is gold, says Nakamura. “In no way have you come away empty-handed.” Take that feedback as encouragement, even if it’s basic, nonspecific, or seems critical. When an agent takes the time to add any type of feedback, you might have a chance at resubmission, she says.

Lose the Defense

If you don’t agree with the feedback, don’t argue or get into nasty exchanges with an agent. Nakamura spells it out: “Get defensive about feedback and you’re showing how you’ll conduct yourself once you really get comfortable with us.” And no agent wants to spend time with a defensive writer. “Even a rebuttal couched in niceties burns bridges.”

And I would add this: Refrain from taking out your frustrations in a blog post or other public arena. Not only will you lose the respect of literary agents and other publishing professionals who may come upon your words, but you may also lose the respect of your fellow writers.

Turn the Rejection into an Opportunity

Here’s what a literary agent expects from a professional writer who’s received a rejection letter:

  1. Respond graciously and promptly, and thank the agent for her time and consideration. That’s it. You don’t need to list your other projects or question the agent’s judgement. Just send a nice note.
  2. Wait at least two weeks before querying a new project.
  3. If you’re resubmitting the manuscript, after attending to the agent’s feedback, “trust that the next time we see your name, we’ll remember your thoughtful note.” Be sure, though, that you send back a manuscript that you’ve improved significantly.
  4. Lastly, act quickly. “If you wait more than six to eight months, you risk the market changing,” Nakamura warns. And that could lead to the change in an agent’s interest.

Simple, right? If you want to be treated like a professional, you need to act like a professional.

So, after you finish filing the rejection letter with the others and eating through that box of chocolate consolation, move on to being the professional writer that you want literary agents and the world to see.

Here’s a fine list from Writer’s Digest’s Guide to Literary Agents that will help you through your rejection blues.

And don’t forget: Rejection has come to the best of writers, so read my post which shows you’re in good company if you’ve been on the receiving end.

Write on!

Next in the series: Sealing the Deal — The Final Steps to Making the Client List

(Part of a blog series: How to catch the eye of a literary agent)

¹Your Future Agent’s Wish List: How to Be On It, Writer’s Digest, October 2013 issue.


9 thoughts on “How to handle rejection like a professional

  1. Just read this post. I’m the editor of a peer-reviewed research journal and I have to send out those reject letters. We have three categories, one of which includes a recommendation for Major Revisions with those revisions detailed out. But most of the people won’t respond or take the time to make the revisions or even ask. It’s scary to put your work out there but once you do and you receive positive recommendations on how to improve the work, it seems like it’d be worth it to revisit your manuscript and re-write it as per the editor’s recommendations.


    1. Thanks for giving us an editor’s perspective, Adrienne. It sounds like you’ve been giving those writers a valuable gift. Far too many of us think that our writing shouldn’t be touched once it’s been submitted, as if the editor is tampering with perfection. Others may not understand that writing is a craft, so revisions may make them feel like failures. When my time comes, I hope I’ll see the editor as a team member who wants my story to be as successful as I do.


  2. This is so true, Darla! I had a series of great emails with an agent after a rejection from her. In the last one she asked me to query her again for future work.

    I queried another agent ahead of a conference and then bumped into her there. I introduced myself and thanked her in person because she had sent me a really nice rejection letter. I could tell she wasn’t used to that because she said, “Well, you know what? If you don’t get any takers, query me again.”

    Goes to show that agents want to love your work just as much as you want them to love it and if they feel a personal connection with you as a person they want to love your work even more.


    1. Cindy, your experience is the perfect cap on this post and I will be tweeting this comment. You are a writing professional (and a funny lady), and I’m pretty sure I’ll be holding your book in my hands soon. Happy New Year!


  3. I like knowing that they welcome thank you notes. I used to be afraid that sending a brief email thanking them for their time would clog their already overfilled inbox. I have sent thank you notes, but only to agents who didn’t send me a form rejection (you know, addressing me by my name as opposed to ‘Dear Author’).


    1. Ha! “Dear Author” — Did you actually get one like that? Well, the form letter isn’t an encouraging response, that’s for sure. But I’d rather send a note and have it overlooked or ignored than not send one and have a chance at being seen as discourteous. It’s just another part of our work. Maybe we should have a form “Thank you for the rejection letter” letter ready to go. 🙂


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