I am neck deep in submissions these days, which means I’m writing a lot of rejection letters. This is the reality of my job. Even if every single manuscript that crosses my path is fabulous — beautifully written, a compelling story, fresh material — I can’t say yes to everyone. It’s a numbers game; I’m just one person, and there are many talented writers out there, and far too few hours in the day for me to take on every marketable manuscript that captures my imagination.
I hate to say no. This is another truth of my job. I love making people happy. There’s not much better than calling a writer and offering representation, unless it’s calling a client with an offer from an editor. But again, it’s a numbers game. I say no far more frequently than I say yes, and it can make me a little sad.
Some days people make it easier. There’s the occasional rude or ridiculously presumptuous submission, those writers who don’t bother to do any research before sending their material and either don’t follow submissions guidelines or query a genre I don’t represent (or both). But mostly writers are earnest and hardworking and wear their hearts on their sleeves, and I understand that no matter how much I try to impress upon them that I’m not rejecting them, it will still feel like I am just a little bit.
I get rejected, too. Agents hear no from editors all the time. We take out our clients’ projects, sing their praises, play matchmaker with editors, and hope for the best. But each editor has only so much room on their calendar for new projects, and so often they tell us no. And while the manuscripts are not mine in the sense that I did not write them, they are still in my hands, given over to me for safekeeping and matchmaking by their proud authors — my godchildren if not my actual children.
But there is always another opportunity around the bend. Rejection is not a closed door, merely a redirection. As an agent I constantly reassess the market, what editors are looking for, the types of material I’m looking to represent, what my clients are interested in writing. Writers need to take stock in the same way, and not allow themselves to be bogged down by rejection. If your dream agent does not take on this manuscript, they may take your next — or suggest ways of making this one better. Another agent might love the project that this agent turned down. If the genre you’re writing isn’t selling right now, try something else on for size. I’m not saying write solely to the market, but maintain flexibility and allow yourself to experiment. You might surprise yourself and create a new opportunity all at the same time.
Writers write. They don’t pigeon-hole themselves, and they don’t let a few rejections prevent them from pursuing their dreams. Keep writing, keep learning, keep improving, keep dreaming. And in the meantime, count rejections as badges of honor. The only people who never get rejected are the ones who never dare to try.