Rejection from Literary Agents: 3 Ways to Cope

Remember the first time you got dumped? Or when you didn’t make the team? How about the call you never got after that job interview? And, for you writers out there, what about your first rejection letter from a literary agent?

It still stings, doesn’t it? Rejection is brutal and the more sensitive you are, the more it hurts. Lucky for me, *eyeroll* I am super sensitive and shy to boot. That may be the reason why I have only sent seven query letters to date. The sting of each form rejection letter I received lasts for weeks and plagues me with self-doubt. I know I’m not alone in this. It’s obvious I need to grow thicker skin and channel my inner warrior, but how do I do that exactly?

Writing is deeply personal and expressive. It’s hard not to take rejection letter from a literary agent as a rejection of your unique style and storytelling ability. When you pour your heart and soul into a project, how to you stay unemotional and level-headed when you get that dreaded email in your inbox? I think it helps to remember even the most prolific writers of our age—Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and many others—had their fair share of rejection in the beginning of their careers. Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, received more than 60 rejections from agents. Newberry Award-winning children’s author Kate DiCamillo (Because of Winn Dixie, Flora & Ulysses, Tale of Despereaux, etc.) reportedly received more than 460 rejections before anyone agreed to publish her.

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It’s clear rejection is just part of the process. There’s just those pesky feelings of frustration to deal with when you’ve put so much time and effort into personalizing your queries. So, how should an aspiring author like me toughen up for this part of the writing journey? I did some research. Just like all disappointments in life, it appears perception is everything. Let’s look at a few ways to reframe rejection so it’s not so jarring to your self esteem.

3 Ways To Cope With Rejection From Literary Agents

  1. Be grateful for feedback. Believe it or not, getting something other than the form rejection letter can be a blessing in disguise. According to a recent blog post from Hatch Editorial Services, if you are fortunate enough to receive a personal and polite rejection letter from an agent you queried, congratulations! The agent or support staff actually took the time to read your work. You may have gotten some valuable feedback on your manuscript. If an agent says the story didn’t grip them, you may need to rethink what’s at stake in your novel. If he or she tells you to work on your social media platform, then you should dive head first into bolstering your online presence. Learning from their feedback and making changes to your manuscript or query letter will help you in your future queries.
  2. Ask for help. You may rock at storytelling, but writing a great query letter which really captures the essence of your novel is a different skill set entirely. If you receive enough rejections, you’ll be motivated to reach out to fellow writers on,,, or other online writing communities for feedback. Two heads are better than one! Asking for help when you’re new at something is nothing to be ashamed of, and I will probably be doing more of this soon. Plus, professional help is only a Google Search away if you are willing to invest money on perfecting your query. Just don’t write back to an agent who rejected you asking for guidance… they have better things to do.
  3. Remember your book isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. You don’t wan’t a literary agent who only LIKES your book (and doesn’t really LOVE it) to be representing you out in the world. That’s not a recipe for success. You want to find that one agent who really gets your characters, is excited to work with you and believes in your story! For a good perspective on this, read the article “How Being Rejected By Literary Agents Prepared Me To Be A Writer” by Rachel Russell from The Writing Cooperative. She writes, “To say it’s difficult to make it as an author is a huge understatement. But there are hundreds of literary agents and it literally only takes one ‘yes’ to change everything. That one ‘yes’ is the driving force behind so much of a writer’s life.”

    I find reading other author’s rejection stories and commiserating with writer friends on Twitter is a good way to put things in perspective. Author, editor and teacher Tracy Gold wrote about this subject on her blog post “17 Tips to Cope with Rejection While Querying Literary Agents.” Besides cuddling animals, eating chocolate and drinking wine, Ms. Gold recommends reading one-star reviews of your favorite novels just to prove that even acclaimed, best-selling books are not for everyone.

Ready, Set, Query!

Oh my, querying a difficult task and not for the faint of heart. It will take some serious tenacity and soul searching. I will try to use these three coping strategies (and more) as I plug away at querying literary agents… ever… so slowly… until I grow thicker skin. Most importantly, I will stay faithful and believe in my story no matter what. That seems to be the deciding factor across the board, whether you get 50 rejections or 500. Don’t give up on yourself and your characters when they need you most!

Happy writing and querying!


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