Rejection … the Writer’s Reality

Last year, I started my agent search in earnest. I had dabbled for a couple of years, participating in the occasional Twitter pitch contest and dashing off the odd query. But this time I researched and compiled a list of agents — in Excel, so you know I was serious. I sorted the agents, and sent out queries to my top picks. The great agent search was on!

When the rejections started to roll in, I brainstormed ways to soften the sting. Rejection chocolate? A good wine? Both had their downsides. Now, my family will tell you I’m a competitive person. Maybe it’s the cutthroat way I play the board game Clue or all my smack talk during bowling. If there was an opportunity to win at rejection I was all in.

Thus, Submission Bingo was born. Many of you joined in and played along last year. Every time we got a rejection, we were one step closer to five in a row and winning the game.

I didn’t shout “bingo” in the first round of the game, but I did win by submitting: I got an agent, and the whole thing happened far faster than I imagined. Somebody liked me. Somebody liked my book. Now everyone else would too – right?

Not so fast.

When my agent sent my book out on submission a couple of months later, reality crept back in. The writer’s reality. Rejection. Not everyone loved my book as much as we did.

I asked my agent to share feedback from editors. Some said nice things. Others offered criticism, most of it far more frank than I’d received during my agent search. Ouch! Everyone had feedback about the book’s structure, its marketability, and my writing. As I read through the emails, I longed for the days of “no response means no.” I was racking up the rejections — again. Was this normal?

I turned to published writers for a reality check. It wouldn’t always be this way, right? I just had to get past this first sale, and THEN rejection would be behind me?

Wrong again.

Rejection, it turns out, is the norm.

Each project is completely different, and one sale does not always guarantee future sales. One book may go to auction, but the next gets multiple passes. One book becomes a bestseller, while the next is rejected by critics. Some books sell in a couple of weeks, others take months, even years. Some never sell at all.

Rejection isn’t something writers “get past.” It is something we learn to live with every time we produce new work and send it out into the world. 99% of the time, our publishing journey will be filled with rejection … from agents, from editors, from critics, and sometimes readers.

This seems like a real bummer, but somehow realizing that ALL writers get rejected at ALL stages of the game made me feel better. Ultimately, I figured out…

The only way to WIN as a writer is to write something YOU love and take each rejection in stride.

It’s a tough lesson, and it’s one I learn again every time I submit something new.

So, whether you are subbing to agents or publishers, submitting your first book or your 10th, we kick off another round of Submission Bingo today. I hope you’ll download the card and play along. (Warning: This time I’m going to take you all down!)

Here’s how the game works.

  1. You may use an agent or editor rejection to satisfy one square only. I know that one rejection email may contain many of the phrases on the card, but no cheating.
  2. All rejections have to come from your current submission round, starting today. No mining your files.
  3. I will send chocolates to the first person to score five in a row (sorry, I can ship to the U.S. only). You can get five in row vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. Shout Bingo here or in the Sub It Club Submission Support Group.

Hopefully you will be a winner in other ways before you fill up your card. If not, buy yourself some rejection chocolate and query on.

“Submissions Bingo” … when you lose, you win.

About Kirsten W. Larson

I used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now I write about rocket science -- and just about any science -- for kids. I'm the author of 25 nonfiction books for the school and library market. Repped by Lara Perkins of Andrea Brown Lit.
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25 Responses to Rejection … the Writer’s Reality

  1. mtmckiever says:

    Thanks, Kirsten. Your thoughts on rejection both inspired me to soldier on and laugh. I sometimes hope there are enough agents for all the rejections I must get before someone asks for my book!

  2. Pingback: Agent/Editor Submissions Bingo — game on! | Creating Curious Kids - Kirsten W. Larson

  3. JEN Garrett says:

    Wahoo! I’m in. I have a few queries out and can’t wait to fill some squares. (Actually, I’m kind of hoping I don’t) 😉 Thanks for this!

  4. Debra Shumaker says:

    I am so in! If only you had started this last week, since I had three rejections. . . 🙂 Rejections aren’t fun, but at least we can have fun with them!

  5. Joe Owens says:

    Kirsten I have allowed the paralysis of the process to hold me back thus far. I have about 5 manuscripts to pitch. Yes, I know sad that I have wasted so much time. But I want to take part in your bingo if not this time in the future. I want to know more about the Sub It Club Submission Support Group.

    • Hi Joe, happy to give you a push. Anyone is welcome at Sub It Club. If you click on the link above, it will take you right to the Facebook group and you can request to join. We have writers of all genres at various stages of the submission process. You are welcome to post queries there for feedback too. If you have any trouble finding it, let me know.

  6. laura516 says:

    This is just what I needed today as I stare at my excel file of submissions and rejections. Love the positive spin on losing!

  7. Sue Heavenrich says:

    I love that we win by losing …. or at least striking out.

  8. Gabi Snyder says:

    I’m in! I can’t wait to win at losing!

  9. Hi Kristen!

    I technically sent out a full request on my YA fantasy novel yesterday so if I get a rejection will it count for the game since I emailed it on the 17? Great idea to take the sting out of rejections!

    Take care,

    Donna L Martin

  10. Depressing to learn that finding an agent doesn’t always equal success. It makes sense, but for years I’ve been thinking, “If I only had an agent…” But I love rejection bingo!

    • Deborah, I think we have to redefine success. Are you happy with the work? That’s the only part of the process we can control. We can’t control how anyone else will receive it. It’s always a nice surprise when an agent or editor likes the work too. Don’t get discouraged.

  11. Thanks for inspiring me to go for those rejections! Chocolate is always a good incentive….

  12. lauraboffa says:

    Brilliant! What better way is there to lose than by winning? Thank you for sharing this great idea to motivate us.

  13. Love this. Thanks Kristen. I am all for positively reframing. And a great reality check that rejection doesn’t go away once you get an agent or get that first ms out into the world.

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