On the Inevitability of No

I had something happen today that caught me off guard: a rejection from a full request. Now, my agent situation has always been a little weird (and not something I am comfortable openly discussing on my blog), but when I received this rejection, I found myself grappling with a lot of emotions.

The rejection was incredibly kind, and actually, made a point to clarify that it wasn’t the quality of my writing or the interest in the book, but rather the agents belief they weren’t the right advocate that led to them passing.

If you are thinking, “Aw, that’s nice, at least you know it’s not because your book is shit.” Then you and I are very different people. Rejection is rejection. It all comes from the same place: not loving your book enough. Like in romance, a guy telling you it’s not you it’s him may seem like a nice reason for breaking it off, but the fallout is often the same. You, left in a puddle, feeling not pretty/cool/clever enough to hold his attention.

I am not complaining. That’s actually not what this is, though I did ugly cry for a little bit afterward. The agent’s interest and willingness to read my book was an incredible opportunity, as well as a boost to my confidence. A boost that shouldn’t be negated because this agent ultimately decided to pass. A boost I will hold on to despite my melancholy over the rejection.

Receiving a “no” must be weighed very carefully with what you already know about your book, your talent, and your belief that you have done all you can to package it in a way that appeals. You must go back to your core and make sure it remains solid. The wobblier you are on whether your book is worth reading, the more likely you are to give up.

I constantly hear agents and other writers say, “If you can do anything other than write, do it.” They say this because rejection is an inherent part of this process. Just yesterday I was speaking to a friend about books — mine, others, all of them — and I told her that at some point every writer has to get to a place where they accept that not every person is going to love their book, and some may even hate it. It takes one agent to fall in love for it to be repped. It takes one editor to want to make out with it for it to be sold.

There’s a verse in the bible that says, “Woe, when all men speak highly of you.” Not everyone should love your book or you. You will have people telling you no until the one you’re supposed to work with says yes. I remember when I was a teenager, my mother gave me this advice in the context of popularity. I wasn’t very popular, nor was I very mainstream. She always encouraged me that those things weren’t what shaped interesting people, and that embracing the fact that not everyone “got” me would allow me to be more open to the ones that did.

I respect the no I received today. I wrote the agent back to thank them for reading, and for seeing it wasn’t for them. Both things are valuable to me as a writer. Does it still sting? Was I hoping this would be it? Sure, yes, of course. I am not much for lying, I wanted this to work out.

That doesn’t change the fact that I have no choice but to keep trying. When Rae Carson was in Irving earlier last month, she shared how she was repped by an agent before her current agent (the one who was able to sell The Fire and Thorns Trilogy). Nothing was wrong with this agent other than the fact that they ultimately didn’t have the same vision for The Girl of Fire and Thorns as Rae had. This distinction made all the difference in the success of selling her book as YA.

I thought about this story today, again, as I was weeping into my coffee because I received one, very courteous and thoughtful, no. Being a writer goes beyond no’s and yes’, beyond selling or not selling, beyond the ironclad door of the industry, and the shit that you see getting published while your masterpiece sits on your computer unexamined. (Hello, Fifty Effing Shades of Gray. Not the actual title so I will not italicize.) Whether your book is really a masterpiece (it’s probably not, let’s face it, that was hyperbole) or not, isn’t what I’m talking about right now. Your passion is what makes it worthwhile. Your willingness to revise is what takes it from meh to marvelous!

And then, when you’ve done all you can and you wait for more responses — praying, crossing fingers, and jumping backwards in a circle for good measure — you write another book in the hopes that one day you get to do it all again.

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5 thoughts on “On the Inevitability of No

  1. I can SO relate. I had so many near misses before I signed with my agent. I was actually preparing to trunk my novel at the time. But once I was pulled out of the query trenches I realized something. All those later rejections (once I’d realized how to write a decent story) were because the agents didn’t think my manuscript was marketable. A couple even told me as much, explaining how they thought the writing was wonderful, but they didn’t feel confident they could sell it. So I get what you’re feeling. People would say at least I know I don’t suck, but honestly, that didn’t help. Rejection is rejection. Though, I will say, when it’s a rejection like the one you had, after the pain wears off it leaves a glimmer of hope because you know you’ve got something and someday an agent will love it.

    • Thanks for this wonderful comment, Rachel! I agree, this is not really something to be upset about (after the initial sting wears off) but something to keep your perspective honed on finding the right person to champion your work.

  2. Pingback: What’s Up Wednesday « Rebekah Faubion, Writer

  3. Such a great post, Rebekah. There’s so much truth to everything you’ve written here. I haven’t spent much time in the querying world, but the time I have spent has been a series of serious ups and downs. I think the comparison you draw between an agent passing (however nicely) and the whole “it’s not you, it’s me” breakup line is very astute. The end result is the same no matter how amicable the let-down. There’s a lot to think about here, and I know I’ll be doing exactly that today. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    • Jaime, thank you! The ups and downs can be almost debilitating. I, like you, haven’t spent that much time actually querying, but have been working with agents for a while. We must walk the line, as writers, between respecting an agent’s place as the door into the industry as well as an authority on the market, and believing in our own work and vision enough to keep knocking even when they pass. I believe revision plays a large role in this working, but also timing of querying makes a difference. I hope this helps you process your next round of querying. Can’t wait to hear that you’ve found your agent!

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