If you want to publish through a traditional publishing house, rejection is a fact of life. You’ll be submitting your idea for your book to literary agents and publishers, and chances are, you’re going to hear a bunch of criticism and Nos along the way.
As an author, it’s important to get comfortable with rejection and not take it personally. You’re going after something a lot of people want – a publishing deal. It’s highly competitive. There are a lot of great writers going after the same thing, and there are only so many spots. You really have to get into the right mentality about rejection so that when it happens, you can get past it.
I know a lot about rejection. I’ve been modeling as a part-time gig for around 15 years. It can be a really hard industry due to the amount of rejection. A lot of times, it boils down to a numbers game. When I’m auditioning for something with 100 other people and there are only 2 spots, statistically, I’m probably not going to get it. That used to be hard for me to deal with, but I’ve learned to not take it personally. Sometimes clients are looking for something else, and someone else happens to be a better fit for them at that time. And that’s OK. I know that if I keep doing the best I can, and I use constructive criticism as a tool for growth, that’s all I can do, and I won’t worry about the rest.
It’s important for authors to have a similar mentality. Writing is a really personal thing. It involves putting your heart and soul on the page, and it can make you feel really vulnerable. It’s hard to turn off the emotional part of your brain and not take it personally when someone criticizes your work. But to get better as a writer, and frankly to survive the book writing process, it’s essential to get thicker skin.
Rejection really culminates when you’re submitting your book proposal to a literary agent, or your agent is submitting it to publishers. This is when you’re probably going to hear a lot of feedback that could seem negative. If it’s coming from a literary agent, I always like to think of criticism as a gift. Literary agents are in your corner. They don’t get paid unless you get paid. They are motivated to help you improve your proposal as much as possible so they can feel confident representing you and ultimately get you an awesome deal from a publisher. It’s their job to poke holes in your ideas before publishers get the chance to do it themselves.
When your proposal is in a good spot and your agent is ready to submit it to publishers, you have to be prepared for more rejection. Publishing houses specialize in different genres, and not all of them are going to be well-suited to sell your work. Or they might have a book that’s too similar & would compete with your book. Or they might think it’s not the right time to publish something on that topic. There are a ton of reasons why they might not be interested in your project.
It’s also important to understand that reviewing book proposals is an imperfect process. Literary agents and editors do their best to spot the projects with the most potential, but they miss things all the time. Many wildly successful books were once rejected because agents or editors couldn’t see the author’s vision: Harry Potter, The Da Vinci Code, The Catcher In The Rye, Twilight, Chicken Soup for the Soul, The Diary of Anne Frank, Jaws, The Notebook, The Color Purple, The Wizard of Oz, and the list goes on and on. Authors have joked how they could wallpaper their apartments with rejection letters. But think if they had gotten discouraged and taken no for an answer. The world would be missing out on so many great stories.
Rejection is uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t be crippling. There are a lot of publishing houses out there, so if some say no, you can keep looking. You can also decide to self-publish. It’s gotten so much easier to publish your own books, and there are a bunch of companies that can help print and distribute your work. A lot of authors are actually making self-publishing their first choice because it’s a simpler, quicker process and they retain creative control.
So, if you can’t find anyone interested in representing your work, don’t despair. If you’ve gotten constructive criticism, I encourage you to really reflect on it, especially if you’re hearing the same things come up over and over again. Put the work down for a month and come back to it with fresh eyes. You might be able to see it differently and make changes that would ultimately improve it.
Lastly, if you believe in your book and it would make you feel happy and fulfilled just to publish it, who cares what people think? It’s not out of the question to create art for yourself. Sometimes the best work actually comes when you’re not trying to please anyone but yourself.
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Amelia Forczak is a Best-Selling Ghostwriter and the Owner of Pithy Wordsmithery, a company that provides strategic ghostwriting, marketing, and consulting for authors and businesses. Pithy Wordsmithery works with clients to ensure the message they are conveying through their website, branding, marketing materials, presentations, and social media is the best possible message for their unique business.