On Rejection: Keep Looking for the Right Address

photo credit: pixabay

I’m querying agents. This involves carefully crafting letters tailored to each individual agent on my list, which means researching what kind of work and which authors each one represents. My plan was to send out sixty queries before I let myself get too discouraged. I’m not sure why sixty. Somehow that number presented itself. Five dozen. I’m not even close to that yet, so it’s definitely too soon to despair. But the rejections have started to trickle in. They’re not rolling in—merely trickling. But the water is very cold.

I was feeling low last week. It was probably some holiday blues. Also I was immersed in researching Auschwitz for a study guide for The Passenger for the Lyric Opera. Also I had a behemoth of a migraine—which may have been in part a result of researching Auschwitz. And in the midst of all of that I got a very nice rejection from a fancy New York agent. My friend Lindsay pointed out that I should look on the bright side, which was that this agent used some lovely, glowing words to describe my manuscript—but I mostly felt bad that she said it wasn’t for her.

So Lindsay sent me a pep talk in the form of a link to a list of big time writers who got rejected before making it big, which of course led to further investigation on my part.

It seems Gertrude Stein submitted poems for over twenty years before one got published.

photo credit: Wikipedia
photo credit: Wikipedia

Louisa May Alcott was told to stick to teaching by the editor of The Atlantic who had to eat his words when she ended up outselling Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville and Henry James.

Rudyard Kipling received this note from The San Francisco Examiner in 1889: “I am sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just do not know how to use the English language.”

photo credit: Friends of the San Francisco Public Library on flickr
photo credit: Friends of the San Francisco Public Library on flickr

F. Scott Fitzgerald was advised by a shortsighted publisher, “You’d have a decent book if you’d get rid of that Gatsby character.”

Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time was rejected by 26 publishers. It went on to win the Newbery Medal.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was famously rejected a dozen times.

photo credit: Laura on flickr
photo credit: Laura on flickr

One publisher recommended that Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (probably my favorite novel when I was twenty-two) be “buried under a stone for a thousand years.”

Not that I’m as brilliant as any of these authors, but it helps to think others have survived this particular roller-coaster.

In the words of Sylvia Plath, “I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.”

And Barbara Kingsolver:

“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address.’ Just keep looking for the right address.”

Just keep looking.

9 thoughts on “On Rejection: Keep Looking for the Right Address

  1. What I liked is the assumption that you sent all those letters at the same time rather than do them one at a time. It was nice you specialized them, but somehow I don’t think there is need for that. Making your manuscript clear to them is perhaps the best way. If you seek encouragement, remember they may be on vacation, but more importantly, they may actually be considering your manuscript idea and they haven’t all responded quickly means that they are holding back and making sure. More encouragement is that once a few come back and make offers, pit them against each other or take the best offer and relax. Even more encouragement: You are doing it the correct way.


  2. another wonderful, wonderful – and time appropriate – blog post. as we all wrap up 2014, I am sure I am not the only one who is mulling over the various ‘rejections’ that have come my way in the past year, and your words are balm that soothe the little nicks and cuts that those defeats have left in their wake. Au courage, ma cheri – your work is already out there in the world, and very appreciated by so many people …


  3. Thank you so much for this piece. I hope you won’t mind my using some of the examples you mention. I recently shares a similar sentiment on my blog. Check out a movie “Character” when you get a chance. It shows how some quite famous actors dealt with this. Pay particular attention to Charles Grodin’s insights about the incompetence of far too many of the gatekeepers. Best wishes in 2015.-b


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